Office of the President

September 15, 2020

Bill Gates Sr., a transformative force for good

Ana Mari Cauce

UW President Ana Mari Cauce with Bill Gates Sr.

Bill Gates Sr.’s passion for higher education and the students attending the UW will live on through gifts made in his honor to the Achievement Scholars Endowed Fund

We have lost the very best. Along with our entire community, I am mourning the loss of Bill Gates Sr., `49, `50. He was, truly, one of the world’s most remarkable people: kind, fair-minded, fun-loving, a citizen of the world who was deeply committed to justice and opportunities for all. He devoted his life to making our world a better place and was one of the finest leaders our University has ever had.

Bill had a profoundimpact on all of us, whether it was through his work as a jurist, as a civic leader or as a philanthropist. Public service was intrinsic to who he was and in the many years that I’ve known him, that work always inspired me the most. Throughout his distinguished legal career, he sought to perfect our system of justice and with his personal time, he took on leadership positions at more than two dozen organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the United Way, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and of course, the University of Washington.

Bill was the proudest of proud Huskies. He absolutely adored this University, participating in every way possible – from the traditions of Husky football to his own roaring renditions of “Bow Down to Washington!” in almost any venue to his active advocacy for our public service mission and the powerful good we can accomplish together. He was truly devoted to the work and deeply committed to the success of our students. In his decades of volunteer service at the University, as a UW Regent, in leadership roles for two historic fundraising campaigns and on countless committees across the institution, Bill always brought people together to ask the tough questions. At the heart of those questions was how to put students first and he always led by example.

Bill established numerous endowments to benefit students and develop their leadership potential. Our law school students and faculty teach and learn in the modern and beautiful facility that bears his name. Bill and his family have established an unparalleled legacy at the UW. Bill’s first wife, Mary, was the first member of the Gates family to serve on the Board of Regents, and Bill followed her, as have their two daughters. Twenty years ago, the Gates family legacy grew to include Mary Gates Hall, established as the UW’s home for undergraduate education, built and named for Mary, whom he met at the UW.

As a fierce advocate for higher education, Bill shared his passion with just about anyone who would listen, from lawmakers in Olympia to people across the state. He had a vision for a better world through public higher education, and through the University, he sought to realize it.

The University of Washington honors that vision by improving the lives of people across Washington and beyond. Despite never holding public office, Bill was the consummate public servant, dedicated to providing opportunities to people who need them the most. Through our great public mission, the UW will continue Bill’s lasting legacy.

In his 2009 book “Showing Up for Life,” Bill described what it meant to him to “show up”, and why it was important to him.

“I show up,” he wrote, “because I care about a cause. Or because I care about the person who asked me to show up. And maybe sometimes I show up because it irritates me when other people don’t show up.” In his 94 years of life, Bill “showed up” again and again, without fanfare, for the things he cared about. In doing so, he forever changed the University of Washington for the better.

Our thoughts are with his wife, Mimi, his children Kristi, Bill, and Libby, and all of his loving family and friends in this difficult time. Bill’s life is truly one to celebrate. We will eternally be grateful for everything Bill Gates Sr. has done to leave our community, and world, more just and fair than he found it.

When Great Trees Fall

By Maya Angelou


When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.


When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.


When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.

Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,


gnaws on kind words


promised walks

never taken.


Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their


now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

radiance, fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of

dark, cold



And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.