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21 September, 2020 - 20:07 By Tony Quested

Cambridge University mourns passing of Bill Gates Senior

The University of Cambridge has paid tribute to the pathfinding work of Bill Gates Senior who has died at the age of 94.

Bill Senior was instrumental in creating the Gates Cambridge Trust with a donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that remains the largest single gift Cambridge has ever received. 

Stephen Toope, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “Bill Sr.’s enduring vision in establishing Gates Cambridge 20 years ago has inspired and supported a generation of scholars who are changing the world across myriad disciplines – from digital healthcare for the poor, to tackling food insecurity and proposing new ways to mitigate climate change. 

“I extend the university’s condolences to Bill Sr.’s wife Dr Mimi Gates and the Gates family on the passing of a giant whose outstanding impact on humanity will continue to grow each year, and whose passion for service will always burn in the hearts of the scholars supported by Gates Cambridge Trust.”

As co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates Sr. played an absolutely key role in establishing the Gates Cambridge Scholarship programme at the University of Cambridge. 

He was a champion of the programme from its inception and served as a Founding Trustee for 12 years. During that time, he regularly met and inspired scholars in Cambridge and alumni around the world. His visits to Cambridge were the highlight of the year for scholars and Trust staff.

Bill Sr. had a major influence in defining the vision and aims of the scholarship, including ensuring the selection criteria included, in addition to academic excellence, a commitment by scholars to improve the lives of others and a capacity for leadership. His skills as a lawyer, alongside his natural warmth and humanity, set the programme on a path to success.

During an interview at the Commonwealth Club of California, Bill Gates Sr. 
was asked “What makes you speechless?” He replied: “My trips to Cambridge to meet Gates Cambridge Scholars”. He described the programme as “awesome” and said the time he spends with Gates Scholars in Cambridge “is a week that I cherish greatly.”

In 2012, the Trustees established the Bill Gates Sr. Prize, an annual recognition of his contribution to the scholarship programme. The prize is awarded to one or two outstanding current scholars who, during their time at Cambridge, have fulfilled the programme’s selection criteria to an especially high level.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship programme, which celebrates its 20th anniversary year beginning on October 1, 2020, selects 80-100 scholars annually, supports 240 scholars in residence and has a global network of more than 1,500 alumni across the world. 

All are committed to improving the lives of others in myriad ways. Bill Gates Sr. achieved many things during an unparalleled life of service. The Gates Cambridge programme will endure as a living and continually growing legacy of passionate change-makers who all aim to live up to his ideals and impact.

His wife is a current Trustee of the Gates Cambridge Trust and works tirelessly to ensure that his values continue to inform the vision and work of the programme.

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