OREM — The Big Three at WordPerfect — Alan Ashton, Pete Peterson and Bruce Bastian — were known, respectively, as the good guy, the bad guy and the eccentric.
After the rise and fall of the software giant, Ashton sunk his millions into a sprawling resort called Thanksgiving Point, Peterson wrote a behind-the-scenes book about the company and Bastian made himself scarce, at least in Utah, where his sexual orientation, liberal politics and social causes don't usually mesh with the majority.
At one time Bastian's net worth was estimated at $840 million, good enough to make the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest individuals in America.
Now, nearly 10 years removed from WordPerfect, Bastian, 55, continues to live off the fortune he amassed, dabble in several business ventures and quietly practice philanthropy. He maintains a $3.5 million gated mansion in Orem near the old WordPerfect campus, as well as homes in Salt Lake City and London.
Friends and associates talk about him cautiously, even protectively.
But chunks of the hundreds of millions of dollars he earned as co-founder of the once wildly successful software company turn up all over the place, revealing bits and pieces of the intensely private man who until now has shunned the media.
Bastian has kept a low profile in his home state partly because he doesn't think people can accept him for who he is, something he says he wasn't able to do himself until the past few years.
"People look at being gay as a deformity or a sickness or a choice. It's none of those. It's part of who I am. I am not Bruce Bastian, the gay person. I am Bruce Bastian, and by the way, yes, I happen to be gay."
Though he has been careful not to reveal much about himself, Bastian unpretentiously makes symbolic, public statements with his checkbook.
The University of Utah and Brigham Young University have benefited from his generosity. Ballet West, Utah Symphony and the other performing arts troupes are on his give list. Environmental organizations, wildlife funds and homeless shelters receive contributions. Democratic political committees and candidates nationwide get some of his money, as do AIDS researchers and gay and lesbian groups.
Incognito in Utah, Bastian is well-recognized in Washington, D.C., among powerful politicians and lobbyists.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian political action committee, honored him last fall for giving more than $1 million to its capital fund-raising project.
"Our plans are really to turn him into a national voice," HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch said.
Birch said she believes Bastian is amenable to the idea, though "he needs to be persuaded of things. He's a little bit of a philosopher king. He likes to reflect more than get the attention."
While a lawyer at Apple Computer Inc. in the late 1980s, Birch heard through the "gay grapevine" that a founder of WordPerfect was gay. About 10 years later as head of the HRC she sought Bastian out, gradually wooing him to the organization. He is now on its board of directors.
"He's not one-dimensional. He's not just for gay rights. He's focused on making the entire world a better place," she said.
'A small town'
Bastian puts much of his energy these days into politics and promoting equality. His choice of fights, such as giving $250,000 to a failed effort to defeat a California proposition banning same-sex marriages, doesn't play well in Utah.
"I have to battle where I can battle," he said in a rare sit-down interview at his ornate colonial-style Orem home, where he lives alone except for his schnauzers, Lukas and Max.
Bastian initially rebuffed interview requests from the Deseret Morning News, citing a number of reasons, including distrust of a newspaper owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also expressed a desire to protect his four sons, who over the years endured cruel taunting because of him. But now that they are grown — the youngest is 20 — his concerns have diminished.
One-time business associate Randy Blosil says it's tough for Bastian to be himself in a state where he's "always in front of a firing squad."
"It's a small town. I think folks are critical of his life. Maybe it's hard for him," says former WordPerfect attorney Duff Thompson, who along with other former company executives has a business relationship with Bastian in EsNet, a Provo real estate and investment firm.
But as those words tumble from his lips, Thompson quickly shifts gears. "Let me back off that," he says. "He's basically a shy person. He's just shy."
Shyness, though, wasn't what kept Bastian from taking on a more public persona since WordPerfect's heyday. He is uneasy around people he doesn't know well. But he has no problem speaking in front of large groups or bending a politician's ear.
Many aspects of his life make him an uncomfortable fit in a county and a state that doesn't highly regard his ideals. Take his being a Democrat, and then put the word gay in front of it.
"To be a gay person among Democrats is not a big deal," Bastian said. "But to be a gay Democrat among other people in Utah, not only are you stupid but you are wicked, too."
Hypocrisy and injustice are two of the things that bug him most, so he's focused on getting rid of social inequalities that to him make no sense.
"It's so hypocritical to me to stand up and rail on the Taliban for their extremism and trying to force people to live this certain creed when we do it all the time. We don't do it to that extreme, thank God, but we do it. You cannot even criticize George Bush right now without having every right-wing radio station crucify you. What kind of America have we become? I think that's really scary, and I will fight for my right to criticize. That is where my passions are now." Though the idea of holding political office fascinates him and he certainly has the means to run, Bastian sees the campaign trail as too "bloody," more so for his children than himself. He also sees no chance of being elected in Utah.
A forgotten man
At WordPerfect, Bastian was never the company's front man. That fell to co-founder Ashton, a soft-spoken computer nerd. Bastian spent most of his time overseeing the company's European operations. Neither sought the limelight. Bastian and Ashton met at Brigham Young University in the late 1970s when Bastian was interim director of the Cougar Marching Band and Ashton was a computer science professor. Bastian developed a computer program for his master's thesis that would allow him to see marching band formations from different vantage points.
Though Bastian was the most innovative director the band had ever seen, the music department wasn't interested in his computer program. He was eventually let go because he lacked a doctorate.
"And that really hurt me and it made me angry, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because the next week I changed my major from music to computer science, and the rest is sort of history."
Ashton sought out Bastian a couple of years later to help him fiddle with a word-processing program that evolved into WordPerfect. "He was an extremely bright person," Ashton said. As the pair worked side-by-side countless days and nights launching the firm, Ashton said he found Bastian indefatigable.
Ashton and Bastian each owned 49.5 percent of the company and brought in Peterson, Bastian's brother-in-law, at 1 percent.
Bastian was esteemed as WordPerfect's best programmer, his work often being described as elegant. His computer code never had to be rewritten. Much of it what he wrote in the 1970s was still in use 20 years later. Technology still excites him. He maintains the computerized systems in his Orem home because he hasn't found anyone who can do it better.
Blosil worked with Bastian at WordPerfect, and Bastian later invested in Blosil's company Treble V Music. He says Bastian could have been the next Bill Gates because he had such vision for technology. But "he had absolutely no ambition to be a figurehead." Bastian often is a forgotten man when WordPerfect comes up nowadays. He's never invited to local entrepreneurial forums or Rotary luncheons to share his business and computer acumen. The Utah Information Technology Association didn't induct him into its hall of fame until a year after it honored Ashton, which would be like Stockton going into the pro basketball shrine without Malone or vice versa.
"It sometimes hurts me that in Utah, Alan is Mr. WordPerfect and he gets honors where I don't even get mentioned. He gets articles written about him where I don't even get mentioned. And we really did it together."
Former WordPerfect executive and friend John Lewis says the "muted" approach to Bastian stems from the community's conservative nature. He made choices "that we don't know how to deal with as a populace. I think we don't understand him. . . . It's just easier to avoid it, to put a blanket over it."
Conflict and confusion
Whether perception or reality, Bastian has long thought that people who don't know him despise him. Hateful e-mails from anonymous workers used to cross his computer screen at WordPerfect. He said he understands because he despised himself for many years.
"Sometimes I think it would be much easier to be a straight, Mormon Republican just doing what everybody else thinks you should do. Life would be so much easier. I can't do that."
Bastian and his wife, Melanie L. Bastian, divorced just before Christmas 1994, citing irreconcilable differences. The couple had lived apart for at least five years prior to that. A settlement agreement is sealed in 4th District Court in Provo.
Melanie Bastian did not respond to a written request for an interview. The Bastians' oldest son also declined to be interviewed.
Bastian grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho, learning the value of hard work on the family farm. His parents were musical and required all their children to take piano lessons. Bastian eventually switched to the clarinet and became an accomplished player.
His father owned a grocery store. He had a huge heart and would buy food for people who couldn't afford it. He also was free from prejudice. Some of the great black jazz artists like Duke Ellington and Count Basie were refused service in restaurants in the 1950s. The elder Bastian and his children brought dinner to their bus when they played in Idaho.
The Bastians were Republicans and members of the LDS Church. Bastian did all the things Mormon boys do in moving up the ranks in the church's priesthood. He went on a mission, married in the temple, had a family and served in a ward bishopric. Peterson described him as a "straight arrow."
But the outward appearance belied the conflict and confusion that churned in his soul for many years. It has been only the past five years that Bastian has been at peace, said Lewis, who traveled extensively in Europe with him for WordPerfect.
Bastian, he said, always had his nose in a book, often one about religion or reincarnation. The two had deep discussions about life. Bastian explored all the different aspects and angles of humankind.
"His search was not superficial at all," said Lewis, now a Brigham Young University associate vice president for alumni.
Says Bastian, "I do not believe any human being can be happy without being true to himself or herself. I think that's the first rule of life. It's not easy and sometimes that goes against the grain."
Changing the world
Bastian travels frequently, though usually not more than three weeks at a time because of his dogs. He is a longtime Utah Jazz season ticket holder. He could live anywhere in the world but chooses to remain a wary fish out of water in staid Utah County, mostly to stay close to his sons, their wives and a grandchild.
Though their post-WordPerfect paths diverged, Ashton regards Bastian as a ear friend.
"He's very kind-hearted and shows a great deal of care and concern toward others," Ashton said. "He's very sensitive."
Lewis describes him as emotional and passionate. "As issues arise that resonate with him, he wants to help, he wants to forge forward and change the world."
Bastian's philanthropy attests to that.
"His giving is just legion," said Michael Mitchell, executive director of Unity Utah, the state's biggest gay and lesbian rights lobby, which relies heavily on Bastian donations.
Bastian, who loves jazz and owns every Ella Fitzgerald album made, donates more to the arts than any of his other causes. Music, dance and theater, he says, promote people being who they are and opens their being from inside.
Michael Marriott, executive director of the B.W. Bastian Foundation, describes Bastian as modest and gracious.
Bastian reluctantly allowed his name to be permanently affixed to a piece of the U. campus. The university named a spacious area between the renovated David Gardner Hall and Libby Gardner Concert Hall the Bruce W. Bastian Atrium after his $1.5 million donation to the music department for Steinway pianos. U. officials told him the plaque would inspire others to give.
U. vice president Mike Mattsson called him one of the university's "main benefactors" because of his multimillion dollar gifts, including $2 million to renovate Kingsbury Hall.
A marching band endowment Bastian established at BYU provides money for equipment and scholarships.
The B.W. Bastian Foundation has $17.5 million in assets, according to The Foundation Center, a New York-based philanthropy research group. The Bastian foundation doled out $683,550 in 2001 to some 50 Utah organizations, including schools, aging services and child advocacy groups, IRS records show.
The foundation recently sent letters to all its beneficiaries saying it would no longer provide funds to those who don't have anti-discrimination policies.
Bastian donated $470,950 to Democratic political campaigns, committees and candidates inside and outside Utah the past five years, according to Federal Election Commission records. Among the recipients is presidential candidate Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who established civil unions, the closest thing in America to same-sex marriage.
Todd Taylor, Utah Democratic Party executive director, said Bastian puts in a "fair amount" of time into local political events like fund-raisers. Still, "I guess I would be surprised if a lot of people knew him well." Marriott said Bastian has felt there is nothing to gain by being vocal about his beliefs because Utah doesn't lend itself to progress in those areas. And he's not looking for a pat on the back for his philanthropy.
Still, Marriott has encouraged Bastian to be more public.
"I think it's important for him to get in the community and say, 'This is who I am.' "