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Friday, June 2, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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5 Gather In Seattle To Honor Contributions Of Mary Gates, Kin

It was, as the late Mary Gates' daughter put it, a "bittersweet" occasion.

The Seattle-King County Realtors Association's First Citizen Award to Gates' family in her memory drew more than 500 of Puget Sound's leading citizens to the Sheraton Hotel last night for the gathering.

"Approaching the anniversary of her death, it marks an emotional time for us," said Libby Armintrout, the youngest sibling, at a news conference before the event.

"Certainly we know she would have enjoyed this honor."

Her brother, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, noted that his mother sparked the connection that made him and his company among United Way's highest-profile contributors.

"She had me meet with (civic leader) Ned Skinner when I came back to Seattle (moving Microsoft from Albuquerque) in 1979," Gates said.

Microsoft instituted a matching-funds program for employee contributions soon afterward. Gates personally has given more than $1 million to the agency.

Mary Gates died last June of cancer after a long career in community service, including United Way, Leadership Tomorrow, Washington Gives and an 18-year tenure on the University of Washington board of regents.

Last month her son gave $10 million to the UW for a Mary Gates Endowment for Students. A campus street also is being named in her honor.

Her husband Bill, a prominent Seattle attorney, noted that Mary's legacy continues to grow.

A national United Way award has been established in her name for "exemplary projects" typifying Gates' emphasis on cooperation between staff and volunteers. The first award was given in Cleveland on May 21 to Minnesota and Florida agencies.

She will receive an honorary doctorate from Seattle University on June 11. Seattle Public Schools has established a teaching award in her name. After graduating from the University of Washington in 1950, Gates taught public school before starting her family.

Seattle Symphony dedicated a concert to her memory, and the Seattle Art Museum put together an educational program in her honor, her family said.

Also attending last night were Gates' other daughter, Kristi Blake, and Melinda French Gates, her son's wife.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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