The Life and Death of Paul Allen

By October 18, 2018Grant management

It’s sad to say that one of the worlds greatest philanthropist, Paul Allen, away on Monday 15th October. As a tribute to his great work, both in the business world and the world of giving, we wanted to give you the insights into his life and how we can all learn something from the way Paul Allen lived. Let’s start from the early years…

Microsoft was born

Very early on in his life, Bill Gates befriended Paul Allen while they were attending Lakeside School in Seattle. They were drawn together by their mutual love of computers, even though Paul was 2 years Bill’s senior, and became close after their school purchased their first computer. Bill and Paul worked on their programming skills together on the schools’ Teletype terminal and other time-sharing computers.

Paul Allen graduated with 1600, the perfect SAT score, and went to college only to drop out 2 years later and work as a programmer. Paul knew that computers were going to be the future and change the world, and he knew that he needed to be a part of it.

These words from Bill Gates blog post, ‘What I Loved about Paul Allen’, sum up how their lives changed forever;

Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area—he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.

Paul Allen and Bill Gates at Lakeside school

Thus Microsoft was born! Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Allen had to leave his position at Microsoft, after getting diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982. This was his first, of a lifelong battle with the disease.

The co-founders split the company into a 60-40 agreement as Bill was doing the majority of the work after Pauls diagnosis, but Allen wouldn’t give up more, which shows he was a very smart man! 8 months later, the doctors informed him that he had beaten the disease!

His Next Adventure

Paul was always close with his sister, Jody Allen, and together in 1986, Paul founded Vulcan Inc. an investment and project management firm. Which, two years later developed and they established The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

They created this foundation to donate to causes and projects that “nobody else is funding”, with their main areas of concern being;

  • Energy needs and climate change
  • Biodiversity on land and sea
  • Helping young people
  • Arts and education
  • Advance scientific and technology
  • And help vulnerable populations

On the foundation’s website, there is a ‘letter from the founder’, Jody. In it, she describes the joy and love both her and her brother had for Seattle and how important it was for them to focus their efforts on their hometown.

As lifetime Seattle residents, the Pacific Northwest has played a key role in shaping who both my brother Paul and I have become. We've paid special attention to helping nonprofits that nurture the arts, promote reading and learning, and aid our region's most vulnerable residents. Regional giving will always be a priority focus of the Foundation. But as the world becomes ever more interconnected and the borders of community are no longer restricted by latitude and longitude, our family has been drawn to support projects that reach far beyond our own backyard.

Paul Allens Philanthropy

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation has donated more than $494 million to over 1,500 nonprofits by 2010, and Paul on his own donated over $2 billion to different causes! He was also a part of the Giving Pledge, promising to give away at least 50% of his wealth – whether in life or death. Paul was recognised for his philanthropy around the world and received the Andrew Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy and Inside Philanthropy’s ‘Philanthropist of the Year’.

Unsurprisingly, one of Allens biggest donations went to the progression of science. He started the Allen Institute for Brain Science, with a $100 million contribution, which was dedicated to understanding how the human brain worked. By the end of his life, he had donated $500 million to the institute. Thanks to his funding they have managed to research and have breakthroughs in technology such as;

  • Allen Mouse Brain Atlas
  • Allen Human Brain Atlas
  • Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas

As well as being part of the white house’s BRAIN Initiative as well as the Human Brain Project.

Paul Allens next biggest passion in philanthropy was the environment. Just a few of the causes he funded include;

  • $7 million to create a census of elephants in Africa
  • $2.6 million used to make Fishbase, an online database fighting against illegal fishing

His philanthropy work wasn’t just about money. He created initiatives to help change the way the world worked. For example, Smart City Challenge where he tried to get the public involved in creating a modern city that would demonstrate how cities can improve quality of life while lowering emissions. Paul was also one of the people who helped to get the initiative 1401 – that prohibits the purchase, sale, and distribution of products made from 10 endangered species – passed in Washington State.

The list of Allens giving goes on and on. Including the $100 million to the fight against Ebola in West Africa and set up a website,, to help raise awareness. His love for exploration, helping find the bell from the HMS Hood that sank in World War II. Not forgetting his love for the arts, with his own collections of items in 4 different museums and galleries for the world to enjoy. And funding education, giving millions of dollars to universities across America.

Paul Allen at a football rally

Outside of Business and Philanthropy

Paul Allen is celebrated for his business insight and his philanthropy. But his personal life was just as interesting. His love of sports, technology, music and the world, allowed him to meet a huge array of people from all over the world.

His skills on the guitar, inspired by Jimi Hendrix, shined through on an independently released album called Grown Men and Everything at Once by Paul Allen and the Underthinkers. At one point in his life, Allen was even able to jam with the incredible Stevie Wonder!

Being a Seattle native, Paul was always a fan of the Seattle Seahawks and was lucky enough to purchase them in 1996. As well as buying the Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Trail Blazers!

Even after he was given the all-clear from his Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982, in 2009 it changed form. Paul was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Again he was successfully treated until it returned earlier this month. He uploaded a blog post on the 1st October sharing his bad news with his community and showing his optimism.

Paul Allen playing guitar

It’s clear to see that Paul Allen knew how to live life to the fullest. It’s a shame he has no son’s or daughters to live on his legacy, however, we don’t think that anyone would be forgetting him soon. He had a huge impact on the world, in business and philanthropy and with the people he met along the one. 65 years old is too young, as we know he had so much more to offer. But we can all learn something from him and his philanthropy. It’s not just about the money, you have to care about things and put in the time and effort to really make a change. Rest in peace Paul Allen, you will not be forgotten.


You can read the statements given by his sister, Jody, and Vulcun Inc. here.

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