Share story

Paul Allen’s mother Faye Allen, a former Seattle schoolteacher who had a lifetime love of learning and a commitment to public libraries and public education, died Saturday at 90.

Allen’s company, Vulcan, released the following statement:

Faye Allen cherished reading and believed in the power of books. From her childhood job at a small town Oklahoma library to her book-filled home near Seattle, she surrounded herself with literature of every genre and from throughout the world. As she used to ask, “What’s better than a good book?”

It was a simple motto that passed on the former schoolteacher’s love of books and reading to her children, grandchildren, and young readers throughout Seattle.

Mrs. Allen died June 2. She was 90 years old.

Mrs. Allen was the mother of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and Jody Allen, CEO of Vulcan Inc., who both inherited their mother’s passion for reading.

Mrs. Allen began reading to Paul when he was three months old. A few years later, a book she gave him about steam engines ignited his interest in technology and science.

“No one could have been a better and more supportive mother to me and my sister, Jody,” Paul Allen said. “She had many friends with whom she shared her love of books, sports and pets.

“She was a shining light for everyone that knew her.”

She is survived by Paul, Jody, and three grandchildren. Her late husband, Kenneth S. Allen, was the longtime associate director of the University of Washington library system.

In her later life, Mrs. Allen became known as the mother of her son, the technologist and philanthropist. But throughout Seattle she was known first as a beloved public school teacher whom students would remember for a lifetime.  Long after they were grown, former students in Mrs. Allen’s fourth grade class at Ravenna School would stop her on the street to thank her for instilling in them a love of reading. They’d remember how she would read aloud to them with perfect diction and a finely tuned sense of drama.

Although she retired from teaching a generation ago, Mrs. Allen always loved children and would look back at her time in the classroom with great fondness. “It’s not like work,” she’d say. “It’s like living.”

Reading and book collecting was a constant in her life. She read everything from the classics to the latest novel. She volunteered at Seattle’s Wise Penny Thrift Shop, pricing books for customers, but buying plenty of books, too, that filled up shelves throughout the house.

Her love of literature led to a lifetime commitment to public libraries and public education, causes she championed through the family’s charitable foundation.

She was an avid sports fan, particularly of her son’s Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, as well as University of Washington Husky football. (In Portland, a basketball player once fell on her during a game, breaking her wrist. She wouldn’t leave, though, until the game was over.)

She loved the theater and believed people should show support for their community by attending performances by every local theater troupe and cultural organization. Shakespeare was a favorite and Mrs. Allen would lead the family on annual treks to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Edna Faye Gardner was born in Carnegie, Oklahoma. She grew up with four older brothers and a younger sister, in a close family that nurtured her outgoing personality. She was musical from an early age, but soon became absorbed in reading and books. Working nights at a local library, she set a goal to read at least one novel from every great author in the world.

At Anadarko High School, in 1940, she was named “All-Around Girl,” the highest honor the school bestowed. That year’s “All-Around Boy” was her future husband. During World War II, Ken was stationed in Europe and Faye had moved to California. But the couple wrote to each other almost daily and when Ken returned after the war, he immediately drove to California and the two soon married. They later moved to Seattle, settling in the north end of the city.

Paul Allen wrote in his 2011 memoir that his parents were after “something bigger for themselves and their children to come.”

Mrs. Allen had an upbeat view on life that friends and family say was evident in the sparkle in her eyes. She was known as being extremely friendly and gregarious, striking up conversations with strangers she met on vacation or the clerk ringing up her groceries.

Mrs. Allen’s love of books continues to be passed on at the Seattle Central Library, home to the Faye G. Allen Children’s Center. She will also be remembered at the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery, where the Faye G. Allen Center for the Visual Arts was dedicated in 2003.

Mrs. Allen died early Saturday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She was first diagnosed with the disease in 2003. 

Caring for his mother helped inspire Paul Allen to create the Allen Institute for Brain Science. His mother’s illness fueled his drive to fund research in the field that might some day lead to a breakthrough in treatment of Alzheimer’s and other genetic brain disorders and diseases.


Faye Allen is shown with son Paul Allen at a 1994 playoff game of the Portland Trail Blazers, the team Paul Allen owns. (AP Photo/Jack Smith)
Faye Allen is shown with son Paul Allen at a 1994 playoff game of the Portland Trail Blazers, the team Paul Allen owns. (AP Photo/Jack Smith)