Undergraduate Academic Affairs

September 16, 2020

Remembering Bill Gates, Sr.

Ed Taylor

Photo of Bill Gates Sr.

Bill Gates Sr. passed away on Monday, September 14. He was 94.University of Washington

My first official appointment with Regent Bill Gates, Sr. was in 2007. I had been in my role as vice provost and dean for less than a year. He arranged to meet with me “about an issue.”

I had a full week to worry about what concerned him.

When I sat down across from him in the regents room, he looked at me and said, “Never mind. My question isn’t that important.” When I pressed, he asked: “How do you know all these students are learning what they are supposed to be learning? How do you know that when they graduate, that they really have learned something, and how do you know how they are different because they came here?”

Before I could conjure an answer, he let me know that he fully understands the question is not answerable and he didn’t want me to establish “a bunch of committees on student learning.” He just wanted me to know what kept him up some nights. I left the meeting having met a man who spent nights wondering whether the UW was serving students well — whether we are living up to our promise, and how we knew we were living our mission.

For years, Regent Gates attended our Mary Gates Endowment events recognizing Mary Gates Scholars. He would speak to students with passion, generosity and humility. He would tear up, look at the students and say, “If only Mary could be here to see what you are all doing now. She would be so proud.”

The legacy of our work in Mary Gates Hall and in UAA overall, is indelibly tied to the devotion of Bill Gates, Sr. Our unit is and has always been inspired by his dedication to the University of Washington and all our students, particularly undergraduate students.

I can think of no better tribute to Regent Gates than to carry out his vision of excellence, diversity and inclusion, humility in the pursuit of a better world, and the simple act of showing up day to day.

While we mourn the loss of one of the great public servants of our time, let us continue to show up with passion and humility. Let us be guided by the clarity of our mission, aim to change the world and be soulful as we do so.

“You sense that you have a particular mission in life, you probably ought to pursue it. You might not get rich, but you will get to keep your soul and you might even change the world.”
― Bill Gates, Sr. // Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime


Bill Gates Sr., a transformative force for good // President Cauce’s statement

The University of Washington mourns the loss of Bill Gates, Sr. // UW News

Bill Gates Sr., civic leader and father of Microsoft co-founder, dies at 94 // The Seattle Times