When talking about his mother, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, currently the richest man in the world, with an estimated worth $76.7 billion, has often spoken about a letter she wrote to his then-fiancé Melinda the day before their wedding.
"From those to whom much is given, much is expected," her letter read.
Mary Maxell Gates, a long-time philanthropist, died six months later at the age of 64 of breast cancer. Gates kept his mother’s letter, and his swift foray into the world of philanthropy, establishing The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with the help of his father, Bill Sr., has been due to the influence of his mother, a formidable business mind in her own right.
Mary was a top student at her high school and in college, where she met her husband, a lawyer. They had three children. She threw herself into volunteering and served on the boards of numerous prominent organizations, including the United Way, where she first served as the county chair and, later, the first female national chair. She convinced her son, who was CEO of Microsoft at the time, to start the Employees Giving Campaign at Microsoft to benefit the United Way and other charities. (He later join the board.)
The considerable list of boards she served on is impressive, and when she was appointed to the board of regents of University of Washington in 1975, she spearheaded the move to divest the university’s holding in apartheid South Africa.
According to her daughter, Libby Armintrout, she was an extremely engaged parent and had high expectations of all her children.
"Not just grades and that sort of thing, but how we behaved in public, how we would be socially,” said Armintrout.
Bill and his mother repeatedly clashed during his upbringing and well into adulthood, however there is no doubt she had his back. When her son dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft in 1975, she used a connection she had through serving on the board of the United Way to help her son land his first big account with IBM: to develop an operating system for IBM’s first personal computer.Related: How Bill Gates Became a Leadership Legend