William H. Gates II, who raised a precocious and headstrong young man known as Bill Gates and later helped the co-founder of Microsoft Corp. give away his billions, died Monday at his beach home on Hood Canal in Washington state, the family said. He was 94 years old and had Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Gates Sr. helped found what became K&L Gates, an international law firm, but was far better known as the father of a billionaire software pioneer. He was often asked whether he was “the real Bill Gates.”
Searching for a new mission after his wife, Mary Gates, died of cancer in 1994, he volunteered to help his son deal with increasingly frequent requests for donations. He later became co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent $53.8 billion over the past 20 years on its humanitarian missions, including the eradication of malaria and the provision of vaccines to children in poor countries.
Bill Gates posted a tribute to both of his parents on his blog. “I knew their love and support were unconditional,” he wrote, “even when we clashed in my teenage years. I am sure that’s one of the reasons why I felt comfortable taking some big risks when I was young, like leaving college to start Microsoft with Paul Allen. I knew they would be in my corner even if I failed.”
Raising Bill Gates was a challenging and at times exasperating experience. Early on, his parents recognized his phenomenal drive as he read his way through the World Book Encyclopedia. His parents offered to pay for any book he wanted to read.
By the time he was 11 or 12, young Bill began challenging his parents over such issues as whether he needed to clean his room or show up for family meals on time. During one dinner-table squabble between Bill and his mother, Mr. Gates Sr. grew so upset that he threw a glass of water in the boy’s face—an incident reported in a 2009 Wall Street Journal article.
“Thanks for the shower,” Bill Gates snapped. (He later confessed to “utter, total sarcastic, smartass kid rudeness.”)
His parents took young Bill to a therapist, who counseled them that their son was destined to win his battle for independence. Their best bet, the therapist said, was to ease up on him. They gave him more autonomy in his teenage years and let him live away from home as a Congressional page in Washington, D.C.
William Henry Gates II was born Nov. 30, 1925, and grew up in Bremerton, Wash. His father owned a furniture store. The son, who grew to six-foot-seven, was an enthusiastic Boy Scout who helped his troop build a log cabin.
His studies at the University of Washington were interrupted when he reported for duty in the U.S. Army during the later stages of World War II. After completing officer-candidate school, he was sent to Japan, where he arrived after the surrender and spent a year. He returned to the university and earned his law degree in 1950.
He began working as a lawyer in Seattle in 1951 and was a founder of Shidler McBroom & Gates, a predecessor of today’s K&L Gates, in 1964.
He had to swallow hard in 1975 when Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to jump into the software business. “Mary and I were both concerned about it—I think she a bit more than I,” Mr. Gates Sr. later told The Wall Street Journal. “Her expectations and mine were very ordinary expectations of people who have kids in college––that they get a degree.”
While building up Microsoft, Bill Gates sometimes sought legal advice from his father. Mr. Gates Sr. also helped find people to serve on the software company’s board.
His role in helping guide his son’s philanthropy began with sifting through piles of requests for money. In the early days, he sat down at his kitchen table and wrote a check for $80,000 to a local cancer program.
Two years after Mary Gates died, he married Mimi Gardner in 1996. She survives him, along with his three children and eight grandchildren.
Bill Gates once offered this advice to his father: “The next time someone asks you if you’re the real Bill Gates, tell them you’re all the things the other one strives to be.”