Prominent lawyer, civil activist, and philanthropist William Gates Sr. spoke this afternoon at a Greater Washington Board of Trade event. The co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation talked about his new book, “Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the gifts of a lifetime.”
Co-written by Mary Ann Mackin, who provides speechwriting services to CEOs of foundations and corporations, the 185-page book is a heartfelt, deeply personal and shines a bright light on the values and principles that Gates learned growing up in the Great Depression.
Board of Trade president Jim Dinegar interviewed the author before a crowd of nearly 100 about what inspired him to write the book, and how his life and example as a business leader and philanthropist may have shaped the success of his son, Microsoft founder Bill Gates III.
“When I talk about the importance of ‘showing up,’ I am really explaining the philosophy that started with my parents and my wife’s family — all of whom were great believers in participating in the community,” Gates explained. “My wife, especially, knew the value of being involved and was very active in the United Way. I always loved that organization because the argument for it is so clean and strong. They ask people to join together to generate large sums of money, then turn it over to leaders in the community — the ones whom they trust the most — to use it for the greater good.”
The Gates Foundation, he said, conducts business in a similar way. “When we first began, we had to decide what we wanted to support and ended up finding our way by deciding what we weren’t going to do. Today, we try to help in areas that we know we can actually make a difference. Few things are a silver bullet, but vaccines — now that’s a silver bullet! So one of our biggest programs is to bring vaccines to the people of poor countries that don’t have access to health care.”
Described as a glass-more-than-half-full person, Gates admitted to being an eternal optimist. “Over the years I’ve met legions of good people who go to work every day under difficult circumstances to reduce and eliminate poverty, improve health, enhance women’s rights, and feed the hungry. My optimism for global progress is based on these people. I admit I probably have an undo level of optimism, and yet, I remain positive that things will improve for more and more around the world. After all, we’re all in this together. That is the theme of my book, and the theme of my life.”
When asked by an audience member whether he wakes up in the morning amazed at the incredible amount of wealth his son has accumulated — and the wealth he is able to distribute through the Gates Foundation — Gates Sr. said, “Yes! It is totally stunning and I’m very conscious of the stunningness of it. And yet, I exalt in it, because those billions are going to wonderful causes and bettering people’s lives. I’m 83 years old and I never imagined that I’d be working this late in life, or enjoying it so much.”