Bill Gates was born to powerful parents: Bill Gates Sr., an attorney, and Mary Maxwell Gates, a prominent Seattle busines woman who helped her son launch Microsoft.
Bill Gates Sr., also called William Henry Gates Sr., was a well-respected Seattle attorney for Preston, Gates & Ellis. Bill and Melinda Gates announced the end of their marriage in a tweet Monday, May 3, 2021.
Both of Gates’ parents served on several boards and were heavily involved in philanthropic and community endeavors, including donating to their Alma mater, the University of Washington, serving on United Way boards and leading Planned Parenthood. They also served with community organizations in their hometown near Seattle, Washington.
Bill Gates Sr. and Mary Maxwell Gates had three children: Kristianne, Bill and Libby.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bill Gates’ Mom, Mary Maxwell Gates, Helped Her Son Secure a Contract with IBM
Bill Gates’ mom, Mary Gates, helped her son form a lucrative relationship with I.B.M., securing a contract with his fledgling company, Microsoft, according to the New York Times.
Mary Maxwell Gates was a regent at the University of Washington since 1975. That year she became the first woman to serve as a director of First Interstate Bank and the first woman to serve as the president of the King County’s United Way. Gates was later appointed to the board of the United Way of America. In 1983, she became the first woman to lead it, according to the New York Times.
Gates built a relationship with John Opel, the CEO of IBM, who also served on the United Way board. Opel mentioned Gates to some of his fellow IBM executives, according to some accounts, and the company decided to “take a chance” with Microsoft. IBM hired Microsoft to build an operating system for its first personal computer. At the time, Microsoft was a small software company. The Microsoft Disc Operating System (MS-DOS) was Microsoft’s first success, the New York Times reported.
Gates was also the director of several companies, including First Interstate Bancorp, U.S. West Inc. and KIRO-TV of Seattle, the newspaper reported.
2. Mary Maxwell Gates Died at Age 64 After Making Several ‘Firsts’ as a Businesswoman
Mary Maxwell Gates earned a position of power in the business world which few women were able to obtain in her time. Gates was the first woman to chair the national United Way’s executive committee. She served on the board with IBM CEO John Opel, which garnered her a relationship with the man that would give her son his first shot at success. She also was the first woman on the First Interstate Bank of Washington’s board of directors, according to a posthumous portrait.
She was set to receive the Municipal League of King County’s Citizen of the Year when she died at age 64 from cancer on June 10, 1994, according to her obituary. The award was to recognize her as an “exceptionally talented, civic-minded citizen.”
“She is widely viewed as one of the strongest people in this community for getting things done,” Eileen V. Quigley of the league told the New York Times.
3. Bill Gates Sr. Was Credited With Saving Starbucks When He Was an Attorney
When Starbucks was a small company with only six stores and a total business value of $3.8 million, a man who is now Starbucks executive chairman nearly lost the business in an underhanded deal, according to Yahoo Finance. A friend told Howard Schultz to meet with Bill Gates Sr., a prominent Seattle attorney.
“I had never heard of Bill Gates Sr. And Bill Gates at the time was not Bill Gates. Bill Gates Sr. was Bill Gates,” Schultz told Yahoo Finance.
The two had a morning meeting, and Gates Sr. responded with two questions: “Is everything true?” and “Have you left anything out?” He told him to come back in two hours.
When he returned, Gates told Schultz they were going to “take a walk” and see the man.
“My heart was racing. I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Schultz told the news outlet. “And we stormed into the guy’s office, and he’s sitting at his desk and Bill Gates is leaning over, all six-foot-seven of him, and basically points a finger at him and says, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself. This is what’s going to happen — you’re going to stand down, Howard is going to buy the company, and we’re never going to hear from you again. Do you understand?’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Now, this is the way business is done.’”
Schultz was still $2 million short on financing, but Gates said he and his son would invest.
“If it weren’t for Bill Gates Sr. there would be no Starbucks,” Schultz said.
4. Bill Gates Parents Were Married for 44 Years Before His Mom’s Death in 1994
Bill Gates’ parents, Bill Gates Sr. and Mary Maxwell Gates, met while they were both attending the University of Washington. They were married for 44 years, according to the University of Washington website.
“The William H. Gates family has an unparalleled record of service to the University of Washington, the community, the region and the world,” the website says.
5. Bill Gates Sr. Retired to Become a Philanthropist & Mary Gates Lives On Through Her Endowment
Bill Gates’ parents, like Gates, were actively involved in their community and in charitable causes.
Gates Sr. sits on a number of boards, including serving as co-chair for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He was also heavily involved in Planned Parenthood, according to PBS. He raised $2.68 billion in eight years serving on boards for the University of Washington, according to the university’s website.
“If you look at who have been the most influential people over the last 50 years, he’s definitely in the top 10,” Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Seattle-based Technology Alliance, told GeekWire. “There’s no doubt about that.”
He also serves as an honorary chair of the World Justice Project, according to its website.
“The World Justice Project engages advocates from across the globe and from diverse interests and disciplines to advance the rule of law,” the website says.
A key part of Mary Gates’ legacy is The Mary Gates Endowment. Her family made a donation to her Alma mater which has provided undergraduate scholarships for 20 years, according to the university’s website.
“The University’s largest endowment for undergraduate scholarships, the Mary Gates Endowment invests in undergraduate students engaged in research and leadership projects, encouraging student learning inside and beyond the classroom,” the website says.
“The Mary Gates Endowment for Students supports University of Washington undergraduates to become independent learners and community leaders. We encourage students’ development of creative, courageous ideas and efforts. Mary Gates Scholars act with integrity, value inclusivity and impact the world through innovation and service,” the endowment website continues.