Paul Allen leaves a legacy on the San Juan Islands

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen not only left a substantial impact on the world of home computers, but also had a significant effect on the lives of islanders. Allen donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a variety of island organizations.

“Paul Allen’s foundation made a contribution early on when he first purchased property on Lopez,” said Rhea Miller, community liaison for Lopez Community Land Trust. “It was a real boon to our work, and I remember several other nonprofits received donations. It was a nice gesture on his part. Several of his employees live in homes developed by LCLT.”

Allen co-founded the multinational technology giant Microsoft with childhood friend Bill Gates in 1975. According to Forbes, he left the company when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1983. He died on Oct. 15 from complications following the return of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – cancer he had battled before in 2009.

Other community organizations in the islands benefited from Allen’s philanthropy, including Orcas Island’s Children’s House.

When Allen was purchasing property on Lopez in 1996, his agent, Wally Gudgell, mentioned the Children’s House – of which Gudgell’s sister Terri Mason was executive director at the time – needed some help with funding a new infant-toddler building, The Seattle Times reported. Allen donated $157,000, and the project was able to be completed.

Like LCLT, OPAL Community Land Trust also got a jump start from Allen’s philanthropy. With a grant from the Paul G. Allen Foundation, OPAL was able to open its first affordable-housing community.

“For a period of time, the Paul Allen Family Foundation included affordable housing among their priorities,” said OPAL Executive Director Lisa Byers. “OPAL Community Land Trust was grateful to receive grants from the Foundation for the Reddick property rental apartments and the Wild Rose Meadow neighborhood.”

In 1996, Allen purchased a 387-acre property on Lopez Island’s Sperry Peninsula for $8 million. His purchase displaced Camp Nor’wester, upsetting many on Lopez. Allen offered to let the camp continue at his privately owned Allan Island, but the conditions weren’t ideal for kayaking and near-shore activities the camp offered, so they declined. The camp closed for three years but reopened when it found a new home on John’s Island. Allan Island sold for $8 million in 2013.

Allen also donated to Orcas Island’s Four Winds * Westward Ho in 1997, and $100,000 was granted to Lopez Center for the Arts to be used toward building its current home. According to Forbes, he donated more than $2 billion in his lifetime.

“But let’s also tip our hat to the Allens, the new residents of Lopez who have proven themselves to be extremely generous and supportive neighbors,” wrote late-editor Ted Grossman in a 1998 editorial in the Islands’ Sounder. “We cannot thank them enough for all they have done to improve the quality of island life.”