The Wall Street Journal offers an article on Bill Gates’ family, specifically his relationship with his parents. It rings true to me. I only met Bill’s parents once, at a black tie party at Ann Winblad’s house in 1986.
That’s the party where Bill yelled at me that Microsoft would beat Lotus because Lotus didn’t know how to develop software. It’s also the one where I got up to address the party-goers and started with words to the effect “There are two things you need to recall about Ann. First, she has a lot of confidence in the abilities of her friends. Second, she’s somewhat perverse.” But I digress …
Anyhow, my take on Bill’s parents at the time was that his mother was sweet, warm, helpful, etc., while his father was a somewhat uptight stereotypical white-shoe WASP. The article doesn’t contradict any of that, but suggests further dynamics that round out the picture, and which are quite consistent with the reporting all along of Bill Sr. as being quite the good guy.
As for the party: There was a major Impressionist art exhibit in San Francisco that year, so Ann decided to have a party in connection with it, cohosted by our mutual friend Rosann Stach. 18 couples, black tie, catered, valet parking, with minibuses to take us to the actual exhibit and back at some point. I was tasked to come up with “Impressionist music”, which I solved by calling up a college girlfriend who was an orchestra conductor, and is why Gabriel Faure’ wound up being very high on my list of favorite composers.
My new girlfriend and I also had dinner w/ Ann and Rosann the night before, when the seating chart was being worked out. (With many more friends in the SF area than back where I lived in NYC, I had the habit of taking a new girlfriend along on a business trip to meet my friends. Ann was particularly pleased in this case, as my backup choice of a party date would have been an ex-girlfriend of Bill’s …)
Ann decided that before dessert the men (Or was it the women? I forget now.) would all get up and go sit somewhere else, with their new companion to be indicated on the placecards. I had the bright idea to, instead of naming the companion, put a riddle about the companion’s identity, that one would either know or could surely answer w/ the help of the other guests. (Some spouses aside, the guests were generally people who knew a fair amount about each other — the ones I’ve named, plus Cristina Morgan, John Doerr, Jerry Kaplan, Will Hearst, and so on.) And thus it became my task to explain the challenge to the guests at the appropriate time … hence my opening remarks quoted above.