Bruce Bastian, One of the Founders of WordPerfect, Dies at 76

Bruce Bastian, a founder of WordPerfect Corporation whose word processor was the preferred writing tool during the early days of personal computing—and who later renounced his Mormon faith and funded LGBTQ causes after coming out as gay—died June 16 at his home in Palm Springs, California. He was 76.

Michael Marriott, executive director of the BW Bastian Foundation, said the cause was complications from pulmonary fibrosis.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Bastian was finishing his undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University when he founded the company that would become WordPerfect with Alan C. Ashton, his computer science professor and the nephew of David O. McKay, the influential former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Bastian and Mr. Ashton were at the forefront of making computers more productive for everyday tasks. Years later, they became adversaries in the legal battle over gay marriage.

Highly customizable, with a toll-free customer support line, WordPerfect has emerged from a crowded market of emerging word processors as the preferred choice of new personal computer users. (Its fan included Philip Roth, who used it until his retirement in 2012, long after the program had been supplanted in popularity by Microsoft Word.)

“WordPerfect had a reputation for being very user-friendly,” Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland and author of “Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing” (2016), said in an interview. “It was clean and modern. Most of the screen was dedicated to the document you were writing, as opposed to a lot of menus and software apparatus.”

Mr. Bastian wrote much of the software code. Mr. Ashton ran the business side. By 1991, the company had a 50 percent share of the word-processing market and generated more than $500 million in sales. It employed more than 4,000 people, most of them at the company’s headquarters in Orem, Utah, hundreds of miles from Silicon Valley.

“In a world where Silicon Valley companies thrive, WordPerfect Corp. is a bit of an oddity,” Personal Computing magazine wrote in a 1988 cover story on the company. “At 4,000 feet above sea level, Utah's Great Basin isn't exactly a high-tech headquarters. The air in Orem is dry in December; the snow falling on the Wasatch Front east of Salt Lake City is the soft powder that expert skiers crave.”

The only oddity was not the location of the company.

“There's another thing that sets this high-tech company apart from most others,” the magazine noted. “Like two-thirds of Utah's population, most of WordPerfect's employees are Mormons.”

Among them were both founders, one of whom had a secret that tormented him.

In 1976, Mr. Bastian married his best friend, Melanie Laycock. They eventually had four children. But all along, he later told interviewers, Mr. Bastian knew he was gay.

In the late 1980s, during a business trip to Amsterdam, she kissed another man.

“When I came back to Utah, I was a mess,” Mr. Bastian said in an interview with Outwords, an organization that records oral histories of the LGBTQ movement. “It was so transformative and so hard. I walk in the door and I see my kids and I’m like, ‘Oh, man. What am I going to do?’”

He told his wife about it a few days later.

“We tried to make it work,” he told Outwords. “I tried to be gay and Mormon at the same time. It’s impossible.”

Mr. Bastian came out publicly a few years later and withdrew his name from the Mormon Church records. He received anonymous e-mails from people expressing disgust at his sexuality. Still, he felt liberated.

“It was such a relief to not have to lie anymore,” he told the “Mormon Stories” podcast.

But problems were looming in WordPerfect's business.

The company's software dominated the market for computers running the MS-DOS operating system, but it was slow to launch a version for the emerging Microsoft Windows platform. Microsoft also folded Word into its suite of productivity programs, Microsoft Office, which quickly eroded WordPerfect's market share.

In 1994, Mr. Bastian and Mr. Ashton sold their privately held company to Novell for $1.4 billion. Novell later sold the software to Corel, which is now known as Alludo. WordPerfect still has a loyal following in the legal world.

Mr. Bastian left the company after the sale to Novell was announced. Through his foundation, he became a major philanthropist, funding arts and cultural programs across Utah. He also supported LGBTQ causes and joined the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

In 2008, the Mormon Church urged its members to financially support the passage of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Ashton contributed $1 million.

“I wanted to make sure the future was good for my children and grandchildren,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s why I donated.”

Mr. Bastian has contributed $1 million to opposition initiatives.

The episode, he said, left him feeling betrayed by Mr. Ashton. It was, he told the Tribune, “really painful for me.”

Bruce Wayne Bastian was born on March 23, 1948, in Twin Falls, Idaho. His father, Arlon, owned a grocery store and a farm and was also a musician. His mother, Una (Davis) Bastian, ran the household.

He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1975 with a degree in music education. He was the director of the university's marching band and, with Mr. Ashton, wrote a program that helped choreograph performances. He received his master's degree in computer science in 1978.

In 1985, The Orem-Geneva Times newspaper described the success of the local company.

“It is hard to believe,” the paper wrote, “that a company with such humble beginnings could become a major competitor (if not the major) in the microcomputer word processing industry.”

Mr. Bastian and his wife divorced in 1993. She died in 2016.

She married Clint Ford in 2018.

Mr. Ford survives him, as do his sons, Rick, Darren, Jeff and Robert; two sisters, Camille Cox and Marietta Peterson; a brother, Reese Bastian; and 14 grandchildren.

For Mr. Bastian, coming out was both terrifying and hopeful.

“I don't think straight people can even imagine the inner turmoil and fear at this point in a gay person's life,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “All your dreams, all your plans, everything falls apart. The whole foundation of your life falls apart. You can stay the course or follow your heart and go where every human being dreams of going: to happily ever after.”

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