Thursday, April 21, 2005

Seattle Spirit

Last Wednesday night, it hit me. I spend a lot of time thinking about our Seattle culture and trying to figure out what makes us tick. We went to a gala, of sorts, Wednesday evening. But little me, a Seattle suburban housewife, yep, me--I was kinda important. The major event was held at the Olympic Four Seasons; 500 people attended; and it was a dinner to honor and benefit Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI).


SBRI had its birth in 1976 in a little strip mall in Issaquah outside of Seattle. See, this is what is so interesting to me. Boeing tanked in the mid-1970's and not much was left of Seattle but that did not stop those of us with dreams for a new, better life--dreams to change the world for the better--to help people--to help the environment--to help children---to pursue justice--to do what we believed in to the bottom of our souls from moving here. And we did; we came in large numbers after the Vietnam war and we are all about the same age--late forties and early fifties. And we have changed the world. But it also occurred to me last night that we did not come to Seattle to make money or even to be successful.

The fledgling dreams of Microsoft, Genentech or SBRI for example were based upon pursuance of passion by terribly bright people and the passion has turned into monumental success. The same can be said about Rick Steve's "Europe Through the Back Door". Rick Steves of Edmonds is an unintended multi-millionaire now. The current mayor of Edmonds started Zumiez, a clothing store aimed at those under 24 and they are about to go public. And of course, we all know about Howard Schulz and Starbucks. The feeling in Seattle is a belief in and determined pursuance of an admirable goal and the goal is not material wealth or fame. But fame and wealth have happened as an accidental side effect. This is what hit me--the spirit of Seattle.

SBRI is a quintessential example of the Seattle spirit. In the beginning, a couple of scientists started this private research institute devoted to studying global infectious diseases such as malaria and African sleeping sickness. Children were and still are dying of these illnesses in large numbers. Seattle was small in those days and we were all kind of connected. My husband worked at the University. I worked in a downtown Seattle law firm. One of the scientists who started SBRI met my husband at UW; they wanted some lawyers on their Board of Directors so I volunteered. The other scientist at SBRI, Ken Stuart, was married to someone who worked at Microsoft so another board member was from Bill Gates' Dad's law firm. We were off and running.

At the present time, SBRI is a multi-million dollar private scientific research institute that has caught Bill and Melinda Gates attention and money as well as Paul Allen's. They have grown from the dumpy little strip mall outside of Seattle to beautiful new digs in the heart of downtown Seattle. Bill Gates' father has made SBRI one of his pet projects. Wonderful scientists are now working on AIDS/HIV and malaria killing children mostly in Africa. I was on the Board of Directors for 10 years from nearly the beginning and I have watched them grow and become more important to Seattle and the world ever since. This was Ken Stuart's baby and it has grown into a beautiful adult.

At the gala, I was listed in the program as an Emeritus Board Member and my name tag was marked with a big purple label to that effect. Little me--just a kid from Montana--played a significant role in the nurturing of this worthwhile dream. When we walked into the Olympic Four Seasons with the crowds of people, I shook Ken Stuart's hand and he said, "We've come a long way from Issaquah!" I laughed and he welcomed my husband. Things have come full circle because Dave is now a new member of the Board of Directors.

While standing in line to get a glass of wine, I turned around and noticed Bill Gates' dad was standing right behind me. He is very tall; he noticed my name tag and nodded. The spirit of Seattle is alive and well and it has been fun to watch.......and to be a part of.