RIP: WordPerfect co-founder Bruce Bastian dies at 76

Tributes paid to passionate LGBTQ+ equality champion

Obit Tech entrepreneur Bruce Wayne Bastian, co-founder of WordPerfect, died last month at the age of 76 at his home in Palmdale, California.

The cause, according to the B. W. Bastian Foundation, was "complications associated with pulmonary fibrosis."

Bastian helped create the word processing application that became WordPerfect while still a graduate student at Brigham Young University, working with Alan Ashton, his computer science professor.

They formed Satellite Software International (SSI) in 1979 and released an initial version of the software in March 1980 under the name SSI*WP for the Data General minicomputer. It cost $5,500 at the time, according to W. E. Pete Peterson, who wrote a history of the WordPerfect Corporation in the book Almost Perfect.

By 1982, a version of the word processing software had been released for the IBM PC, running on MS-DOS under the name WordPerfect. Until version 5.1 in 1990, WordPerfect was written in x86 assembly language.

SSI, not to be confused with a gaming company Strategic Simulations Inc that was also founded in 1979, became the WordPerfect Corporation in 1985. And two years later, its word processing application led the market, ahead of WordStar and Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Windows also debuted in 1985 and its rapid adoption in the years that followed meant WordPerfect had to compete on a new platform. By July 1991, WordPerfect's share had started to slip and within a few years, Windows and Word had taken over. That year, Forbes estimated the net worth of Bastian and Ashton at $600 million each, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The private business was sold to Novell in 1994 for $1.4 billion in stock and options. Two years later, Novell sold WordPerfect to Corel Corporation for $186 million.

As The Washington Post noted at the time, WordPerfect lost significant market share during the first half of the 1990s due to Microsoft's strategy of bundling its Word application with other office software and selling them as a suite of applications.

Bastian left WordPerfect following its sale to Novell and focused on philanthropy, supporting arts and cultural programs in Utah.

In 1997 Bastian also created the B. W. Bastian Foundation, which awards grants to organizations that support equality for all Americans, including LGBTQ+ community.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ+ organization, celebrated Bastian's life as a champion of equality.

"We are devastated to hear of the passing of Bruce Bastian, whose legacy will have an undeniably profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community for decades to come," said Kelley Robinson, president of the campaign.

"Bruce was in this fight, working at every level of politics and advocacy, for over three decades ... Bruce stood up for every one of us and uplifted the beautiful diversity of our community. It’s the kind of legacy we should all be proud to propel forward."

In a 2009 interview with Bloomberg, Bastian was asked whether the business community has done a good job recognizing the rights of gay individuals?

"Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It certainly is improving. There are certain areas of the country where being gay really is not a plus or a minus," he responded.

"When I started my business, I was married, living in Utah, and pretending to be straight. But I came out, separated from my wife, and came out to my business partners before WordPerfect's real growth happened. It certainly was not any kind of impediment to our growth."

Bruce Bastian

RIP ... Bruce Bastian. Source: BW Bastian Foundation

In 2003, he joined the board of the Human Rights Campaign and worked to help defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, an effort to amend the Constitution to define marriage as legal only between a man and a woman. He also donated $364,000 and $1 million respectively to defeat Utah Marriage Amendment and California's Proposition 8, both of which sought to disallow same-sex marriage.

His former business partner Ashton, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, donated $1 million in support of California's Proposition 8, which was passed by voters in 2008 and subsequently invalidated in court.

In 2013, the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had previously defined marriage as the "legal union between one man and one woman." Then in 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges (another 5-4 decision), the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment requires the recognition of same-sex marriage.

Bastian is survived by three siblings, four sons, fourteen grandchildren, and his husband Clint Ford. ®

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