WordPerfect Pioneer Bruce Bastian Passes Away at 76

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WordPerfect Founder Bruce Bastian, a Trailblazer in Tech and LGBTQ+ Rights, Dies at 76

Bruce Bastian, a co-founder of the iconic word processing software WordPerfect, died on June 16th at his home in Palm Springs, California. The news of his passing was shared by the B.W. Bastian Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting arts and culture in Utah. Mr. Bastian, a prominent figure in the early days of personal computing and a later champion of LGBTQ+ rights, leaves behind a legacy that transcends both technology and social justice.

Key Takeaways:

  • A Pioneer in Personal Computing: Bastian, alongside his computer science professor Alan Ashton, spearheaded the development of WordPerfect, a groundbreaking word processing program that dominated the market in the 1980s and early 1990s. Its intuitive design and robust features made it the go-to choice for personal computer users, even attracting notable authors like Philip Roth.
  • A Secret Struggle: Despite WordPerfect’s success, Bastian, a devout Mormon at the time, wrestled with a deeply personal secret – his homosexuality. His coming out journey, initially filled with internal conflicts and societal prejudices, ultimately led him to renounce his religious beliefs and embrace his true self.
  • A Life Dedicated to Social Justice: Following his public declaration, Bastian became a passionate advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, devoting significant resources from his foundation to supporting LGBTQ+ causes. His commitment to social justice extended to opposing Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, in which he contributed $1 million to the opposition effort.
  • Legacy Beyond Technology: Bastian’s life demonstrates the power of embracing one’s true identity. He transcended his initial success in the tech world by becoming a vocal advocate for social justice, leaving a lasting impact on both technology and LGBTQ+ rights.

From Wordperfect to a Changed World:

Bruce Bastian’s story begins in the late 1970s, a time when personal computing was in its nascent stage. As a graduate student at Brigham Young University, he shared a vision with his computer science professor, Alan Ashton, to create a user-friendly word processing program. Together, they founded the company that would later become WordPerfect, revolutionizing how people interacted with computers.

WordPerfect emerged from a crowded market as the frontrunner due to its user-friendly interface, robust features, and a commitment to free customer support. "WordPerfect had a reputation for being very user-friendly," explained Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland and author of "Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing." "It was clean and modern. Most of the screen was given over to the document you were writing, as opposed to a lot of menus and the apparatus of the software."

As the company gained momentum, Bastian and Ashton became key players in the burgeoning personal computing industry. WordPerfect’s headquarters in Orem, Utah, became a hub of innovation, employing over 4,000 people and generating over $500 million in sales. While Silicon Valley was emerging as a center for tech innovation, WordPerfect’s success in the heart of Utah stood out as a unique phenomenon.

However, beneath the surface of success, Bastian carried a deeply personal secret that threatened to unravel his life. His marriage to his best friend, Melanie Laycock, though seemingly idyllic, masked a painful reality. Bastian was gay, a fact he kept concealed from the world, including his own family.

Living a double life, he found himself at odds with his Mormon faith and the societal pressures of the time. The reality of his sexuality finally came to a head during a business trip to Amsterdam, where he kissed another man. "When I got back to Utah, I was a mess," Bastian later told Outwords, an organization documenting oral histories of the LGBTQ+ movement. "It was just so transformational and so difficult. I walk in the door and see my little boys and I just thought, ‘Uh, jeez. What am I going to do?’"

The truth of his sexuality tore at the fabric of Bastian’s life. Despite his love for his wife and family, he knew he couldn’t live a lie any longer. His eventual decision to come out publicly was a profound act of self-acceptance, liberating him from the constraints of societal expectations and religious dogma. This personal journey, however, was met with resistance.

Bastian’s decision to be open about his sexuality resulted in anonymous threats and rejection from members of the Mormon community. Despite the backlash, he found solace in embracing his true self. "It was such a relief to actually not have to lie anymore,” he confessed in an interview with the podcast, "Mormon Stories."

Following the sale of WordPerfect to Novell in 1994, Bastian separated himself from the company. He turned his focus towards philanthropy, using his wealth to fund arts and cultural programs in Utah. He also became a dedicated advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, joining the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and actively supporting organizations like Outwords.

In 2008, when the Mormon Church publicly urged its members to support Proposition 8, a California ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, Bastian found himself at odds with his former business partner, Alan Ashton. Ashton, a devout Mormon, donated $1 million towards the initiative, while Bastian contributed the same amount to the opposition.

This event highlighted the stark contrast between Bastian’s path towards social justice and Ashton’s unwavering faith, marking a painful rift in their relationship. "It was really painful for me," Bastian confessed to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Bruce Bastian’s story is one of both personal triumph and social impact. He achieved significant success in the tech world but also demonstrated remarkable courage in embracing his true self. His life, lived with a commitment to honesty and social justice, serves as a powerful example of how one individual’s journey can contribute to lasting societal change.

A Legacy of Courage and Compassion:

Bruce Bastian’s legacy is a testament to the power of authenticity and the importance of standing up for what’s right. He will be remembered as a visionary in the tech industry, a pioneer in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and a dedicated philanthropist. His story inspires us to confront our own inner conflicts, embrace our identities, and work towards a more just and equitable world.

Article Reference

William Edwards
William Edwards
William Edwards is a business journalist with a keen understanding of market trends and economic factors. His articles cover a wide range of business topics, from startups to global markets. William's in-depth analysis and clear writing provide valuable insights for business professionals.
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