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Tue, Nov. 19

Column: A remarkable woman who changed the world by serving others

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, encouraged his followers to “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can... As long as ever you can.”

When we serve others, amazing things happen.

Consider, for example, the story of a Seattle woman born in 1929 just as the Depression was getting started. In the 1950s, Mary spent a few years teaching junior high school before becoming a full-time mom.

As her children grew, the talented volunteer got involved with civic groups including the Junior League, Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, and many others. In 1975, Mary was named president of United Way of King County.

She was the first woman in that role and later became the first woman to chair the national United Way’s executive committee.

In a world-changing coincidence, John Opel served on the United Way Board with Mary.

He was the president of IBM and his company needed someone to develop an operating system for its first PC.

When Microsoft was mentioned as a possibility, Opel responded, “Oh, that’s run by Bill Gates, Mary Gates’ son.”

IBM, of course, ended up making a deal with the young entrepreneur that launched Mary’s son down the path to becoming the world’s richest man. But, as her son built his business, Mary continued to do philanthropic work.

Among other things, she ran a project urging people to give 5 percent of their income and 5 hours a week of their time to civic causes.

Sadly, Mary Gates succumbed to cancer at the age of 64. But her legacy lives on.

Following his mother’s example, Bill Gates eventually left Microsoft to become a full-time philanthropist.

He has already given away tens of billions of dollars and created an enormous charitable foundation.

In 2010, the tech billionaire teamed up with Warren Buffet to launch “The Giving Pledge,” a public campaign encouraging rich people to give away at least half of their wealth.

“We live in an exciting time for philanthropy,” they declared. It’s a time “where innovative approaches and advances in technology have redefined what’s possible.”

Their message was so powerful that over a hundred billionaires signed on, including Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. The Giving Pledge has generated hundreds of billions of dollars for charity, but its success is built on a simple reality.

“Grassroots movements are proving every day how a single individual, regardless of wealth, can make a lasting impact on the lives of others.”

Bill and Melinda Gates did more than just encourage others to give away money.

They led the way with a pledge to give away 95 percent of their wealth.

Why? Because since childhood both had been taught “the values of volunteerism and civic engagement. Our families believed that if life happens to bless you, you should use those gifts as well and as wisely as you can.”

Mary Gates spent a lifetime doing all the good she could. Her community service played a role in helping her son generate fabulous wealth and her example encouraged him to give that wealth away.

It all began with the simple act of stepping forward to serve others.

That’s a step all of us can take.

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