Bill Gates Sr. Helped His Son Create the World’s Largest Philanthropic Foundation

Bill Gates’ father, the late Bill Gates Sr., worked with the billionaire Microsoft co-founder to create the world’s largest philanthropic foundation.

Dan Clarendon - Author

Feb. 10 2021, Updated 3:00 p.m. ET

Bill Gates Sr. and Bill Gates Jr.
Source: Getty Images

Before his death in 2020, Bill Gates’ father helped him build what became the world’s largest philanthropic foundation, and it all started with a conversation at a movie theater in 1994, as The New York Times reported in an obituary for Bill Gates Sr. in September 2020.

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According to the Times, the father and son were waiting in the ticket line at a movie theater with Gates Jr.’s wife, Melinda, when the Microsoft co-founder told his dad about being flooded with charity requests. Gates Sr. offered to help sort out the paperwork and the rest is philanthropic history.

“I consider Bill Gates Sr. the conscience of the Gates family,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy columnist Pablo Eisenberg told the Times. “He was instrumental in not only starting the foundation but growing it, and his motive was that with all that money, you ought to do good.”

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bill gates jr bill gates sr
Source: Getty Images

Bill Gates Sr.’s education and military experience

From 1944 to 1946, Gates Sr. served in the U.S. Army. He rose to the rank of a first lieutenant during the occupation of Japan in World War II. After the war, he attended the University of Washington on the G.I. Bill and graduated in 1949 before earning a juris doctor from UW’s law school the following year.

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What was Bill Gates Sr.’s career?

In 1951, Gates Sr. started his law career in a private practice in Seattle, Wash. In 1964, he co-founded the Seattle law firm Shidler McBroom & Gates, which later became Preston Gates & Ellis and then K&L Gates. He worked in corporate, technology, and dispute laws, according to a statement on the firm’s website.

During his career, Gates Sr. served as the president of the King County Bar Association, the Washington State Bar Association, and the National Conference of Bar Presidents. He was also a state delegate to the American Bar Association, which awarded him the ABA Medal in 2009.

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Bill Gates Sr. and philanthropy

Gates Sr. directed the William H. Gates Foundation, which worked to improve reproductive and child health in the developing world. Eventually, the foundation combined with the Gates Learning Foundation to create the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. Gates Sr. served as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to his profile on the foundation’s website

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“Those who claim that the wealth they have accumulated is theirs to pass on without returning anything back to the American system show a shocking lack of appreciation for all that the system and public monies did to help them create wealth,” Gates Sr. wrote in his 2009 book, Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gift of the Lifetime.

Bill Gates Sr.’s wife and family

In 1951, the same year he went into private practice, Gates Sr. married Mary Maxwell, a former president of King County’s United Way and a regent of the University of Washington. She died in 1994. The couple had three children — Bill Gates Jr., Kristianne “Kristi” Blake, and Elizabeth “Libby” MacPhee.

In 1996, Gates Sr. married Mary “Mimi” Gardner, a former director of the Seattle Art Museum.


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