PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (ABC4) — One of Utah’s earliest computer tech leaders and a major advocate for LGBTQ and human rights, Bruce W. Bastian, died on Sunday, June 16 at the age of 76 in California.

According to family members, Bastian passed away in his sleep after battling complications related to pulmonary fibrosis.

Known in the tech world as a co-founder of WordPerfect, one of the first widely-used word processors of the computer age, Bastian was also known as a major philanthropist for human rights and arts organizations around Utah.

“Bruce Bastian was a light to the people of our state,” Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis said. “His example calls on us to do more, especially when it comes to supporting our LGBTQ+ community.” 

Tech breakthrough

Along with Alan Ashton, Bastian originally developed the application that became known as WordPerfect while still at Brigham Young University in the late 1970s. Together, they would form Satellite Software International in 1979 to market the program — all based out of Orem, Utah.

By 1982, they had created an MS-DOS version, and by 1986, WordPerfect had become a mainstay and market leader for personal computer users. While the program fell out of favor as Microsoft Windows took over the PC market (and Microsoft Word became dominant), the company was eventually sold to Novell in 1994. At that time, Bastian left the company. It is now owned by Alludo, which was formerly known as Corel.

The New York Times noted that by the time WordPerfect 6.0 was released in 1993, WordPerfect commanded “60% of the word processing software market.” Highly praised by critics and computer pundits alike, the program is still available today as part of the WordPerfect Office Suite, released in 2021.

Philanthropic work

While Bastian was originally known for his work in the tech sector, he also had a degree in music education and supported a number of arts-related programs throughout his life. As an undergraduate, Bastian served as the director of BYU’s Cougar Marching Band, and he merged both sides of his studies, teaming with Ashton to design computer software to help choreograph marching band performances.

After his tech success, Bastian gave significant sums of money to programs like the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, as well as Ballet West. He also assisted the Plan-B Theatre Company and was known to have once donated 55 Steinway pianos at a cost of $1.3 million to the University of Utah. He was also instrumental in donating money for the renovation of the university’s Kingsbury Hall in 1997. President Barack Obama also appointed Bastian to the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Arts in 2010.

In 1997, he set up the B.W. Bastian Foundation, which served as his main philanthropic arm. He joined the board of the Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, and as part of HRC, supported local efforts such as Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center.

“No individual has had a greater impact on the lives of LGBTQ Utahns than Bruce Bastian,” said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy WIlliams. “Every success our community has achieved over the past three decades can be traced directly back to his love and support. Bruce invested his passion into advancing equality every day, every month and every year of his remarkable life. He has been a rock and pillar for all of us. Our community owes more to Bruce than we can possibly express.”

Lewis said Bastian’s influence could be felt outside of Utah, as well. In 2008, Bastian gave $1 million to the campaign to fight California’s Proposition 8, which would have banned same-sex marriages.

Utah AIDS Foundation Executive Director Sten Penfold said Bastian supported the organization unwaveringly.

“I believe he truly understood the difficulty associated with HIV and AIDS at a time when few others were willing to help, or even mention the disease,” said Penfold. “He gave his financial support when it was not a popular or particularly safe thing to do. And he inspired others to do the same. I honestly believe Bruce saved lives, and I will be eternally grateful for his support, his devotion and his friendship. He was a larger-than-life personality, and he will leave a hole in our hearts.”

Bastian leaves behind four sons, 14 grandchildren, two sisters, one brother, and his husband, Clint Ford.