Bastian's profile low — in Utah, at least

But philanthropy gives ex-WordPerfect whiz plenty of clout

By Dennis Romboy
Deseret Morning News

Published: Sunday, June 22 2003 12:00 a.m. MDT

OREM — The Big Three at WordPerfect — Alan Ashton, Pete Peterson and Bruce Bastian — were known, respectively, as the good guy, the bad guy and the eccentric.

After the rise and fall of the software giant, Ashton sunk his millions into a sprawling resort called Thanksgiving Point, Peterson wrote a behind-the-scenes book about the company and Bastian made himself scarce, at least in Utah, where his sexual orientation, liberal politics and social causes don't usually mesh with the majority.

At one time Bastian's net worth was estimated at $840 million, good enough to make the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest individuals in America.

Now, nearly 10 years removed from WordPerfect, Bastian, 55, continues to live off the fortune he amassed, dabble in several business ventures and quietly practice philanthropy. He maintains a $3.5 million gated mansion in Orem near the old WordPerfect campus, as well as homes in Salt Lake City and London.

Friends and associates talk about him cautiously, even protectively.

But chunks of the hundreds of millions of dollars he earned as co-founder of the once wildly successful software company turn up all over the place, revealing bits and pieces of the intensely private man who until now has shunned the media.

Bastian has kept a low profile in his home state partly because he doesn't think people can accept him for who he is, something he says he wasn't able to do himself until the past few years.

"People look at being gay as a deformity or a sickness or a choice. It's none of those. It's part of who I am. I am not Bruce Bastian, the gay person. I am Bruce Bastian, and by the way, yes, I happen to be gay."

Though he has been careful not to reveal much about himself, Bastian unpretentiously makes symbolic, public statements with his checkbook.

The University of Utah and Brigham Young University have benefited from his generosity. Ballet West, Utah Symphony and the other performing arts troupes are on his give list. Environmental organizations, wildlife funds and homeless shelters receive contributions. Democratic political committees and candidates nationwide get some of his money, as do AIDS researchers and gay and lesbian groups.

Incognito in Utah, Bastian is well-recognized in Washington, D.C., among powerful politicians and lobbyists.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian political action committee, honored him last fall for giving more than $1 million to its capital fund-raising project.

"Our plans are really to turn him into a national voice," HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch said.

Birch said she believes Bastian is amenable to the idea, though "he needs to be persuaded of things. He's a little bit of a philosopher king. He likes to reflect more than get the attention."

While a lawyer at Apple Computer Inc. in the late 1980s, Birch heard through the "gay grapevine" that a founder of WordPerfect was gay. About 10 years later as head of the HRC she sought Bastian out, gradually wooing him to the organization. He is now on its board of directors.

"He's not one-dimensional. He's not just for gay rights. He's focused on making the entire world a better place," she said.

'A small town'

Bastian puts much of his energy these days into politics and promoting equality. His choice of fights, such as giving $250,000 to a failed effort to defeat a California proposition banning same-sex marriages, doesn't play well in Utah.

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