Ric Weiland’s name is not widely known. Yet his extraordinary $170 million bequest has played a critical role in making progress toward an HIV cure, legalizing same-sex marriage and building the LGBTQ movement.

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Not long after The Foundation for AIDS Research learned it was among the organizations in Ric Weiland’s extraordinary $170 million bequest, news broke that a man had been cured of HIV.

The “Berlin patient” — Timothy Ray Brown, a Seattleite living at the time in Germany — gave the foundation a new focus on cure research.

The recession was ramping up, and most nonprofits were cutting back. But thanks to Weiland’s gift, the foundation could count on a million dollars a year, for nine years.

Ric Weiland, Microsoft’s inaugural general manager and programmer, retired from the company at 35 and devoted himself to philanthropy. He was 53 when he died in 2006. (Courtesy of Mike Schaefer)

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Marcella Flores, associate research director of the foundation, known as amfAR. “It really set us on a path, a very strong path, to a cure.”

One can only imagine what Weiland, who took his own life in 2006 at age 53, would have thought. Once Microsoft’s second employee, he was HIV-positive and suffering from depression. His belief that the disease was starting to assert itself, after years of lying dormant, contributed to the despair he felt at the end, according to his partner, Mike Schaefer.

In recent weeks, as 10 organizations devoted to LGBTQ causes received their last payments, they assessed the impact of a donor whose name is not widely known but whose generosity helped produce scientific, legal and cultural transformations. His gift came at just the right time to jump-start breakthrough HIV research and fuel the fight for same-sex marriage that culminated in victory at the U.S. Supreme Court.

His bequest also helped change the landscape at schools around the country, many of which now have gay-straight alliances and anti-bullying policies.

“We didn’t see a lot of this progress coming in our lifetime,” Schaefer said. “Remember back to that time,” he said. George W. Bush was president, and he supported a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to heterosexual couples. “We had kind of given up on gay marriage,” Schaefer said.

It was also before the era of one-pill-a-day AIDS management, never mind realistic hope for a cure.

Still, he thought big.

“He seeded a national movement,” said Kris Hermanns, CEO of Seattle’s Pride Foundation. Weiland left more than $65 million to LGBTQ causes and HIV research.

And his legacy doesn’t stop there.

He donated roughly $54 million to Stanford University, his alma mater, $22 million to environmental groups and $8 million apiece to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children’s and United Way of King County. Much of that funding came in the form of endowments, to be invested and tapped into on an ongoing basis.

How to give so much?

The inaugural Microsoft general manager and programmer was a highly analytical thinker who, after retiring from the company at 35, devoted himself to philanthropy. He served on the boards of Pride Foundation and GLSEN, a national group supporting LGBTQ students, and filled 50 file boxes with reports on groups he was interested in helping, Schaefer said.

Mike Schaefer, partner of late philanthropist Ric Weiland. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)

Together for five years, the two worked as a team to figure out how much money should go to whom. Schaefer, a Safeco Insurance analyst at the time, now president of a Queen Anne bedding company, was the extrovert with longtime board experience. Weiland was the introvert and prudent investor who gave unusual freedom to those he supported.

Many philanthropists like to dictate how their donations are spent. Weiland believed you either trust organizations or you don’t, and he did. Despite skepticism from Schaefer, Weiland gave his money without restrictions.

At the same time, he didn’t think many LGBTQ groups would have the capacity to manage an endowment, according to Schaefer.

Weiland’s challenge, said his former partner: “How do you give $10 million to an organization with a $10 million budget?”

He hit upon a solution to avoid overwhelming those smaller nonprofits: yearly payouts from a fund the Pride Foundation would manage.

That was “huge,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, which received $7.3 million from Weiland’s bequest. “We did not have to set up an investment account.”

Everything was in order when Weiland died, down to the decimal point of the percentage of his estate each beneficiary would receive. Being so wealthy, and living with HIV, meant that he always kept his will up to date.

Glimmer of possibility

On a recent day at a Tully’s next to his bedding store, Schaefer flipped through glowing reports on how Weiland’s money has been used. In the early years especially, it was a fraught subject for Schaefer, who said his partner’s suicide was the worst thing that ever happened to him.

“All these philanthropic organizations wanted to celebrate. The last thing I wanted to do is party.” Yet, Schaefer has clearly come to revel in what he called “astounding successes.”

When it came to HIV-cure research, the Berlin patient gave just a glimmer of possibility. The method that cured Brown, a stem-cell transplant using HIV-resistant cells, could never be replicated on a broad scale.

Flores, of amfAR, said Weiland’s bequest allowed the foundation to fund other promising approaches and ultimately to launch “Countdown to a Cure,” an initiative to raise and spend $100 million on cure research.

One amfAR-funded study published last March yielded new hope that broadly neutralizing antibodies — proteins known to fight off many strains of HIV, now being used in “Hutch”-led prevention research — could be used for a cure as well. Oregon Health & Science University’s Nancy Haigwood showed that the antibodies, given to baby monkeys just one day after exposure to HIV mixed with a simian form of the virus, caused all signs of infection to disappear.

Chris Peterson, staff scientist, works at The Hutch in Hans-Peter Kiem’s HIV lab, where researchers are working on a gene-editing approach to prevent HIV from entering cells. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

Often targeting new ideas not yet funded by the more conservative National Institutes of Health, amfAR also supported the Hutch’s Dr. Keith Jerome at an early phase of his work with a “genetic scissors” that aims to find and disable HIV hidden in cells.

Hutch colleague Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem is now researching the use of genetic scissors to prevent HIV from entering cells in the first place, and to boost the immune response.

Weiland’s bequest is helping to fund that work, along with HIV vaccine and cancer research, through its endowment to the Hutch.

“Greatest impact of any donor”

No less profound are the results from Weiland’s bequest in the legal arena.

“He literally had the greatest impact that any donor has had in our 43-year history,” said Judi O’Kelley, leadership director for Lambda Legal. Weiland’s $1.4 million a year represented 8 to 12 percent of the New York-based group’s budget over the last nine years.

The organization took on more cases, she said. One, on behalf of a Lacey, Thurston County, woman denied access to her dying partner’s bedside, resulted in court defeat but sparked an order by President Obama forcing hospitals to recognize the rights of same-sex couples.

Other cases pressed the issue of same-sex marriage — right up to the U.S. Supreme Court case, with Lambda serving as co-counsel. In 2015, it became the law of the land.

Twenty-five couples marked the passage of Referendum 74 by tying the knot at Seattle First Baptist Church on Dec. 9, 2012. Ric Weiland’s bequest helped win legalization of same-sex marriage in the state and the nation. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

Weiland’s bequest helped secure the same outcome in Washington state three years earlier. Pride Foundation, whose special role in distributing Weiland’s funds came with a separate $19 million in endowments, led the education campaign for Referendum 74, which affirmed same-sex marriage.

Weiland made that possible, said Hermanns, the CEO, and he also turned the then-mom-and-pop foundation into one with full-time staff across the region.

Schaefer is impressed by less-celebrated victories, too. “One of the best stories I’ve gotten so far is from the folks at GLSEN,” he said.

With the help of Weiland’s money, the organization encouraged thousands of new gay-straight alliances at schools by networking with advisers and offering guidance to student leaders. A recent GLSEN survey shows that fully half of all students now have such an alliance at their school.

“Did we know any gay people in high school?” asked Schaefer, 59, marveling at the change.

For GLSEN, Weiland’s bequest came at a pivotal moment because President Obama had just taken office, said Byard, the executive director. His administration was more open to LGBTQ causes than the preceding Bush administration, she said, and Weiland’s bequest allowed GLSEN to actively engage.

She believes that played a part in the administration’s recent directive to schools to allow transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their identity.

A federal judge issued an injunction stopping enforcement of that directive — just one sign of a backlash to cultural changes spurred by the LGBTQ movement. With President-elect Donald Trump taking office this month, Byard said the movement now faces a “radically different environment.”

Trump has expressed support for transgender rights and gay marriage, surprising some Republicans. Still, he is the standard-bearer of a Republican platform hostile to those things and has said that he would sign legislation allowing discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs.

Byard said she’s not panicking at how to confront the new climate without the fortification from Weiland that has sustained her organization for so many years. Because of it, her organization has built up a reserve fund.

And she said GLSEN can now approach potential donors and say: “Look, this is what is possible.”

“The question is: Are other philanthropists going to step up?” Schaefer mused. Or will there be downsizing?

Joyous as he is about the bequest’s accomplishments so far, he said, “I think the real story will be in another five years.”