UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks issued the following statement on the passing of the university’s dear and trusted friend:
The University of California, Berkeley, mourns the loss of William K. Bowes, Jr., a visionary leader in business, education, medical research, and philanthropy — and a tireless supporter of Berkeley. He passed away Dec. 28 at the age of 90.
Bill was a legendary Silicon Valley trailblazer, but the Berkeley community will remember him most for his leadership as a UC Berkeley Foundation trustee — and for his boundless optimism and joyous enthusiasm for students, faculty and researchers with ambition and bold ideas. He will also be remembered for his quiet leadership style, impeccable ethics, and genuine selflessness.
A San Francisco native, Bill graduated from Lowell High School in 1942. He served in the U.S. Army infantry in the South Pacific and Japan during and after World War II, and then earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from Harvard University. Bill served as the first chairman and treasurer of Amgen and later co-founded U.S. Venture Partners, ensuring his place as one of the pioneers of Silicon Valley venture capital and a catalyst for California’s ascent in the global economy.
As a true champion of the transformative potential of talented young people — and a generous supporter of basic biomedical research — Bill has left a tremendous legacy at Berkeley and beyond.
Though he rarely sought public recognition for his philanthropy, he ranks among Berkeley’s most significant benefactors. As one of the founding donors to the Incentive Awards Program (now known as the Fiat Lux Scholarship program), Bill invested in one of California’s greatest assets: meritorious, talented undergraduate students from the state’s most underserved communities.
Bill also championed the importance of basic scientific research. He quietly provided Berkeley with resources to recruit outstanding early-career faculty to be part of the Bay Area’s scientific community. Professor Bob Tjian shared that he frequently met with Bill and enjoyed “inspirational and always stimulating” lunches with his friend, whose humble, unassuming demeanor belied his sharp mind, clear vision, and uncommon generosity.
In addition to his incredibly generous financial support, Bill also devoted much of his time to education and medical research. He was a former board chairman of the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s interactive museum of the sciences, and he served on the executive committee of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He also was on the boards of the Asian Art Museum, Grace Cathedral, the UCSF Foundation, the Institute for Systems Biology, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Hoover Institution. He was on the visiting committee at the Harvard Business School.
Bill actively sought to support so many critical areas — from undergraduate scholarships for students from underserved communities to special funds for accelerating the work of world-class biomedical researchers. We shall deeply miss his friendship, astute ability to identify world-class talent, and his grand vision for a better, healthier future for humanity.
He is survived by his wife, Ute, and extended family.
A celebration of Bill’s life will be held on Monday, Feb. 6, in San Francisco.