Craig Watjen, a former Microsoft treasurer who also was a philanthropist and Seattle Mariners minority owner, died Friday at 74.
It was 1998 and Craig Watjen was crouched in front of the backstop, sporting a Mariners jersey and a catcher’s mitt.
He hadn’t practiced since his teens, when he played catcher for his high-school team, said his wife, Joan Watjen. But at age 62, the second-oldest guy at the Mariners-hosted baseball fantasy camp, he wasn’t bad.
Watjen went to fantasy camp three years in a row, wearing a jersey bearing his name and the number 6, representing then-catcher Dan Wilson, whom he idolized.
“He was such a wannabe,” Joan Watjen said with a laugh.
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But for him, being part of the Mariners wasn’t just a fantasy. He was a minority owner of the team, part of a very private group of wealthy Seattle-area residents who bonded over their love of the sport.
Mr. Watjen, of Bellevue, a former Microsoft assistant treasurer and a generous contributor to baseball, music and cancer research, died Friday of cancer. He was 74.
Everybody who knew him called him “The Ancient Mariner” or “Mighty Whitey” for his full head of silver hair, Joan Watjen said. Though he wasn’t gregarious, he was “a people person” and “had a wonderful sense of humor,” she added.
Mr. Watjen had a passion for finance all his life, but his first love was music. He was a clarinetist from a young age in his hometown of Pawtucket, R.I., and after he got a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts at Harvard University, he went on to study at the Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory. He played on occasion with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
But he soon grew tired of being a full-time musician and turned to the business world for a new career. He went to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, graduated in 1973 and joined General Recorded Tape (GRT), a Silicon Valley corporation that owned several music-recording labels. There he met Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who were GRT clients.
When Microsoft moved its operations from Albuquerque, N.M., to Bellevue, Gates called Mr. Watjen and asked him to join the company, Joan Watjen said.
“He was key to moving Microsoft forward in the early days,” Gates said in a statement Monday. “I valued his judgment, his insights and his unassuming manner in his work.”
Mr. Watjen opened up the accounting department for the company in 1981 and retired in 1990 as the assistant head of the treasury team.
Former Microsoft Chief Financial Officer John Connors remembers Mr. Watjen was “very outgoing, especially for a finance guy,” and called his personality “eclectic” due to his wide variety of interests.
“Those were the days of the 16-hour workday, and he was always juggling a million projects — and he did it with aplomb and always with a smile on his face,” Connors said.
Mr. Watjen stayed busy throughout his retirement, spending most of his spare time collecting old Ford Model A cars and Lincoln models from before and after World War II, and fixing them up with friends. Though he never picked up his clarinet again, he would occasionally play Chopin and Mozart on the piano for his wife and close friends.
His love of music also prompted him to donate time and money to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Seattle Opera. In local classical-music circles, he and his wife are most known for their donation of the 4,490-pipe organ in Benaroya Hall.
Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s music director, said Watjen was unfailingly modest. He originally wanted to donate the hall’s organ anonymously, but Schwarz finally convinced him otherwise.
“Craig always had a twinkle in his eye and continually surprised us with his charm, brilliance and sensitivity,” Schwarz said.
Watjen was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1992, and when he had his prostate removed, he thought he’d done away with the disease. But it returned about three years ago after small cells metastasized into his liver, his wife said.
His prostate-cancer treatment inspired him to invest $50 million to help found Light Sciences Oncology, a research institute developing more tolerable, effective and repeatable radiation treatments for cancer.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Watjen is survived by family members up and down the East Coast.
A public celebration of his life is planned but has not yet been arranged.
Jill Kimball: 206-464-2136 or email@example.com