In Search of the Real Bill Gates

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His mother Mary was "a remarkable woman," Bill Sr. says. A banker's daughter, she was adroit in both social and business settings, and served on numerous boards, including those of the University of Washington, the United Way, USWest and First Interstate Bancorp. After her death in 1994, the city council named the avenue leading into their neighborhood after her.

"Trey didn't have a lot of confidence in social settings," says his father. "I remember him fretting for two weeks before asking a girl to the prom, then getting turned down. But Mary did. She was a star at social intercourse. She could walk into a room ..." He has the same toothy smile as his son, the same smudgy glasses covering twinkling eyes. But now, for just a moment, he is starting to tear up. His mind does not seem like a computer. He folds his arms across his stomach and starts to rock, gently.

He gets up to show some more pictures of Mary and of her mother. Both loved cards, and they would organize bridge games, as well as Password and trivia contests, after the big family dinners they held every Sunday. "The play was quite serious," Bill Sr. recalls. "Winning mattered."

As he wanders through the house, he points out more framed pictures of his son: Trey, the towheaded Cub Scout; Trey with sister Kristi, a year older, who now has the joy of being his tax accountant; and with Libby, nine years younger, who lives a few blocks away raising her two kids; with Bill Sr. and his new wife Mimi, the director of the Seattle Art Museum; and hugging his wife Melinda while listening to Willie Nelson play at their New Year's Day 1994 wedding in Hawaii.

"He's a busy guy," says Bill Sr., "so we don't see him a lot, but we spend holidays together." Thanksgiving was in Spokane, Washington, at Kristi's house, Christmas playing golf in Palm Springs, California, where Bill Sr. and Mimi have a place. They communicate mainly by E-mail. Just this morning he got one describing a photocopier Trey bought him for his birthday.

He lumbers over to a table where he has gathered some pictures of summer vacations they used to take with friends at a cluster of rental cabins known as Cheerio on the Hood Canal, about two hours away. There were nightly campfires, family skits and the type of organized competitive games the Gates family loved. "On Saturdays there was a tennis tournament, and on Sundays our Olympics, which were a mixture of games and other activities," Bill Sr. recalls. "Trey was more into the individual sports, such as water skiing, than the team ones."

In 1986, after Microsoft became successful, Gates built a four-house vacation compound dubbed Gateaway for his family. There his parents would help him replicate his summer activities on a grander scale for dozens of friends and co-workers in what became known as the Microgames. "There were always a couple of mental games as well as performances and regular games," says Bill Sr. as he flips through a scrapbook. These were no ordinary picnics: one digital version of charades, for example, had teams competing to send numerical messages using smoke-signal machines, in which the winners devised their own 4-bit binary code.

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