The announcement Monday that Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma made headlines both locally and throughout the world.
On Oct. 1, Allen announced he was battling the disease — the third time since 1982 that he had received a cancer diagnosis. Still, in a statement earlier this month, he was hopeful about the outcome.
“My doctors are optimistic that I will see good results from the latest therapies, as am I,” Allen said. “I am very grateful for the support I’ve received from my family and friends … and count on that support now as I fight this challenge.”
Two weeks later, on the afternoon of Oct. 15, Allen’s family members, friends, and business associates announced he had died at the age of 65.
A Tech Pioneer with Local Ties
Born and raised in Seattle, Allen was 15 years old in 1968 when he met Bill Gates while both attended Lakeside School. Seven years later, the pair co-founded Microsoft, ushering in revolutions in software and personal computing.
Allen left the company in 1983, turning his attention — and enormous wealth (he was a billionaire by age 37; Forbes recently estimated Allen’s net worth at nearly $21 billion) — toward varied interests that included business, entertainment, philanthropy, science, and sports; first through Vulcan Inc., an investment and project management firm founded in 1988 by Allen and his sister, Jody, and later through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Allen Institute for Brain Science, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Allen Institute for Cell Science, and Vulcan Real Estate.
Allen’s business interests were largely focused on the development of apartments and office space in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, and his buildings included more than 3,000 residential units, and nearly 11 million square feet of office space that served employees of Amazon, Facebook, and Google. On the Eastside, Vulcan Real Estate is expected to develop more than 1 million square feet of office, residential, and retail space on property it owns in downtown Bellevue.
But Allen was equally known for his development interests as he was in other areas. For example, by 2008, he had donated more than $1 billion to a range of philanthropic causes.
In the entertainment world, Allen purchased the Cinerama movie theater in downtown Seattle in 1998, renovating it into a high-end movie house and saving it from demolition. He also started his own film production company, opened the Experience Music Project (now the Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle, established the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in Everett, and opened the Living Computer Museum in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. He also founded the Seattle Art Fair and the Upstream Music Fest.
On the sports front, Allen owned the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team and the Seattle Seahawks NFL team. He also owned a minority stake in the Seattle Sounders MLS team.
In the field of computer-science, Allen donated $14 million to the University of Washington in 2002 to construct the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering. Fifteen years later, he donated $40 million to further support the university’s computer-science efforts. And in 2004, Allen’s SpaceShipOne became the first privately funded, rocket-powered aircraft to successfully put a civilian in suborbital space.
Puget Sound Post-Allen
So, what do our region’s business, philanthropic, and sports communities look like now that Allen, who had a huge influence on all of these areas, has passed?
On Wednesday, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, was asked about the future of the Seattle Seahawks if the team were to be sold following Allen’s death.
“Oh, I can’t imagine the Seahawks not in Seattle,” Jones said, during a press conference in New York City following a meeting of NFL owners and the league’s commissioner. “That hasn’t even been a thought. As a matter of fact, he was so instrumental in establishing that certainty, and, so, it would be, really, a little unjust if the thing that he probably did the most for the NFL and sports was to stabilize the Seahawks franchise.”
“We didn’t have any discussion about it,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when asked a similar question. “We think it is inappropriate at this point in time to be having those kinds of discussions. The Seahawks have made plans. Paul Allen had made plans. At the appropriate time, those plans will be discussed.”
Meanwhile, Vulcan Inc. CEO Bill Hilf offered similar intimations.
“There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes, or museums,” Hilf said this week. “Paul had a tremendously huge vision on how to improve the world. A big part of our forward plans are to help realize that vision and to continue what he wanted to get done … Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. We will continue to work on furthering Paul’s mission and the projects he entrusted to us.”
Paul Allen’s Closest Associates Reflect on the Late Entrepreneur’s Life and Legacy
The statements in this story were obtained from various sources.
I met Paul when I was in 7th grade, and it changed my life.
I looked up to him right away. He was two years ahead of me in school, really tall, and proved to be a genius with computers. (Later, he also had a very cool beard, which I could never pull off.) We started hanging out together, especially once the first computer arrived at our school. We spent just about all our free time messing around with any computer we could get our hands on.
Paul foresaw that computers would change the world. Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry. That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together.
In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area — he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said, “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.
As the first person I ever partnered with, Paul set a standard that few other people could meet. He had a wide-ranging mind and a special talent for explaining complicated subjects in a simple way. Since I was lucky enough to know him from such a young age, I saw that before the rest of the world did. As a teenager, I was curious about (of all things) gasoline. What did “refining” even mean? I turned to the most knowledgeable person I knew. Paul explained it in a super-clear and interesting way. It was just one of many enlightening conversations we would have over the coming decades.
Paul was cooler than I was. He was really into Jimi Hendrix as a teenager, and I remember him playing Are You Experienced? for me. I wasn’t experienced at much of anything back then, and Paul wanted to share this amazing music with me. That’s the kind of person he was. He loved life and the people around him, and it showed.
Sports was another passion that Paul loved to share with his friends. In later years he would take me to see his beloved Portland Trail Blazers and patiently helped me understand everything that was happening on the court.
When I think about Paul, I remember a passionate man who held his family and friends dear. I also remember a brilliant technologist and philanthropist who wanted to accomplish great things, and did.
Paul deserved more time in life. He would have made the most of it. I will miss him tremendously.
“Paul was a truly wonderful, bright, and inspiring person — and a great friend. I will miss him. I also want to add that Paul’s insights were critical to the creation and success of Microsoft. He was a great professional mentor and teacher for me. And last, Paul told me for years that I should own an NBA team. He used to yell at me, ‘Steve, you got to do it, it will fire you up.’ That, too, changed my life for the better.”
“Paul Allen’s contributions to our company, our industry and to our community are indispensable. As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences, and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world. I have learned so much from him — his inquisitiveness, curiosity and push for high standards are something that will continue to inspire me and all of us at Microsoft. Our hearts are with Paul’s family and loved ones. Rest in peace.”
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Paul’s passing. We will forever be grateful for his commitment to our city, shaping its growth and achievements. His partnership in Sounders FC helped pave the way for organizational success, and his overall legacy in this community will live on for generations, impacting countless lives in the process.”
“All of us who had the honor of working with Paul feel inexpressible loss today. He possessed a remarkable intellect and a passion to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems, with the conviction that creative thinking and new approaches could make profound and lasting impact.
Millions of people were touched by his generosity, his persistence in pursuit of a better world, and his drive to accomplish as much as he could with the time and resources at his disposal.
Paul’s life was diverse and lived with gusto. It reflected his myriad interests in technology, music, and the arts, biosciences and artificial intelligence, conservation and in the power of shared experience — in a stadium or a neighborhood — to transform individual lives and whole communities.
Paul loved Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. The impact of Paul’s efforts can be seen here at every turn. But the true impact of his vision and generosity is evident around the globe.
Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. This isn’t the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul’s family. We will continue to work on furthering Paul’s mission and the projects he entrusted to us. There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes, or museums.
Today we mourn our boss, mentor, and friend whose 65 years were too short — and acknowledge the honor it has been to work alongside someone whose life transformed the world.”