An Evening With a Giant

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As we were lying in bed about to go to sleep one night I asked my husband which celebrity he would want to invite to dinner if we had the opportunity to meet a famous person up close and personal. He asked me whom I would pick but I teased him and asked him to go first even though I had a name in mind that I thought he would never consider. I suppose that after fifty one years of wedded bliss I should not have been surprised when he immediately suggested that we should ask Bill Gates to come to our abode because that is exactly the person that I had wanted to be our guest. We both laughed but understood without words why we might like having Mr. Gates join us for an evening of conversation. Mike’s only caveat was that if his possibilities included bringing someone who was dead back to life for one night he would instead want to visit with Abraham Lincoln.

I suppose that for some choosing Bill Gates as our dinner guest might seem somewhat strange. He’s not a hunk of burning love like some actor or singer might be. He’s not particularly funny and entertaining. In fact, he rather professorial in his demeanor and when he speaks he always appears to be thinking about multiple ideas at once. We both agree that we are less interested in his wealth and how he accumulated it and more excited about the many  projects that his money supports. He is indeed a most interesting man.

I once had the opportunity to meet Bill Gates and his wife in a small group setting. He came to visit a charter high school where I was the Dean of Faculty. He came with his wife and they were both so humble in appearance and demeanor that if I had seem them walking in a crowd I would never have viewed them as being of any great importance. Their clothing was casual and they were rather soft spoken, but they measured their words and focused on learning about our students and their needs. 

After a short tour of the facilities guided by the head of the KIPP Charter Schools we took Mr. Gates and his spouse to a classroom where a group of students were studying chemistry. Bill took command of the situation by introducing himself and telling the young teens that he wanted to know what they needed from adults to be properly educated and prepared for life. He made it so clear that he was truly interested in what the students had to say that they opened up with great honesty, identifying what they believed to be right about education and what was wrong. He was not taking notes but it was apparent that he was carefully filing away the information that he heard. His comments and queries were perfect for collecting the kind of meaningful information that he needed

A few years later I listened to Bill Gates and his wife speak at a Stanford University graduation. They challenged the graduates to find purpose in their lives beyond making money. Bill and Melinda urged them to use their intellects for the good of people who do not have the opportunities that had been granted to them. He spoke of his own journey from only wanting to become rich and powerful to the sea change in his view of success that occurred when he met his wife, an extraordinarily compassionate woman. 

Bill Gates is one of the wealthiest humans on the planet and his riches are unimaginable to someone like me but what I really want to discuss are the many humanitarian projects that he and his wife Melinda have launched all over the world. The two of them have attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy and thrift with their three children, talking of how they cook together and do the dishes as a family each evening. While they live in a million dollar home they have given away billions to philanthropic causes from education to medicine in remote and often forgotten places.

When Bill Gates takes on a project things actually happen. I learned from that brief meeting in a classroom years ago that he wants to be certain that funding is being used in the right places for the right reasons. He carefully gathers information from all stakeholders that he analyzes before providing the necessary resources for success. He is a truly thoughtful and compassionate man and I would like very much to learn about the people, places and causes that he has undertaken. I want to delve into his knowledge and learn what I might do with my own far more limited resources. 

I believe that each person has an important role to play in making the world a more humane and just place. Some like Bill Gates have the capability to bring about sweeping improvements while most of us accomplish such things in small doses. I would like spend an evening over dinner just picking his brain. I imagine washing the dishes together and then retiring to our great room where I might be able to learn from a master. I think it would be rather grand and, if she’s willing to come, I would greatly enjoy hearing from his remarkable wife Melinda as well. I have always suspected that she is the true influence in his life. 

Some people are larger than life and yet still very human. Bill Gates is one of those souls and I truly hope that he will accept my humble invitation for a bit of repast and stimulating conversation.