Robert Gates, President Bush's pick for defense secretary, has long ties to Western Washington.

Robert Gates, President Bush’s nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, has long ties to Western Washington.

After his retirement from the first Bush Administration, he and his wife, Rebecca, and their two children moved in 1994 to a lakefront home on Big Lake, in Skagit County about five miles southeast of Mount Vernon. They lived there until Gates moved to Texas to serve as president of Texas A&M University.

He said in 1994 that he knew Western Washignton well because his wife has relatives on the Olympic Peninsula, and the couple had always planned to retire here.

Gates’ daughter, Eleanor Gates, 31, lives in Seattle and works for Washington Mutual. His son, Bradley, 26, played football for Sedro-Woolley High School and then went to Washington State University in Pullman, where he recently graduated.

According to a Gates relative, the family still has the Big Lake home and considers it their permanent residence. Robert Gates plans to return to Big Lake at the end of Bush’s term, if his nomination is approved.

While living in Skagit County, Gates made several donations over the years to the local Big Lake Elementary School. His gifts were always anonymous, until he stepped forward in 2001 to offer $20,000 in matching donations during a fund-raising drive to build a new playground.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com