My dad also had a profound influence on my drive. When I was a kid, he wasn’t prescriptive or domineering, and yet he never let me coast along at things I was good at, and he always pushed me to try things I hated or didn’t think I could do (swimming and soccer, for example). And he modeled an amazing work ethic. He was one of the hardest-working and most respected lawyers in Seattle, as well as a major civic leader in our region.
My dad’s influence on our philanthropy was just as big. Throughout my childhood, he and my mom taught me by example what generosity looked like in how they used their time and resources. One night in the 1990s, before we started our foundation, Melinda, Dad, and I were standing in line at the movies. Melinda and I were talking about how we had been getting more requests for donations in the mail. Dad simply said, “Maybe I can help.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would not be what it is today without my dad. More than anyone else, he shaped the values of the foundation. He was collaborative, judicious, and serious about learning. He was dignified but hated anything that seemed pretentious. (Dad’s given name was William H. Gates II, but he never used the “II”—he thought it sounded stuffy.) He was great at stepping back and seeing the big picture. He was quick to tear up when he saw people suffering in the world. And he would not let any of us forget the people behind the strategies we were discussing.