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July 31, 2008 12:00 AM

One of Microsoft's first employees, "Mama" Lubow, passed away

Posted by Brier Dudley

Miriam Lubow, a dynamic woman who barely escaped the Holocaust as a child and went on to become one of Microsoft's first employees, died Tuesday night of liver cancer.


Lubow, 72, was diagnosed a year ago but lived long enough to see her old boss, Bill Gates, retire from Microsoft last month.

She also participated this year in a reunion of employees pictured in the famous "Albuquerque Eleven" photo taken back in Microsoft's shaggy days, even though she missed the original sitting because of a snowstorm.

Lubow found the company through a newspaper ad seeking a "girl Friday" and became the company's first receptionist and office manager.

"Mama" Lubow, as the employees called her, also raised four children, two of whom worked at the company as adults.

Lubow was hired by Steve Wood while Gates was away. She had never heard of the word software, but Wood hired her anyway, according to "Gates," a biography by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews.

An anecdote about her first encounter with Gates appeared in the book and was repeated at this year's reunion:

"One morning in comes this kid, sneakers and bluejeans and hair disheveled, and I'm thinking this kid doesn't belong here, what is he doing?" Lubow recalled, according to an account provided by Microsoft. "He runs by my office and goes into the computer room that Steve said 'nobody should go in there; it's private. Don't let anybody in there.'"

She quickly found Wood.

"I said, look Steve, this kid runs in there, and he's in that room, and he's working like he owns this place, and Steve says, 'Well, you know what, he does. He's your boss. He's the president.'"

In those early days, Lubow typed letters that Gates had scrawled overnight on legal pads, made his barber appointments, reminded him to eat lunch and straightened his tie, according to the book "Gates."

After the company moved from Albuquerque to Bellevue, Gates offered to relocate everyone, including Lubow's family.

Lubow's husband, Milton, was reluctant, but eventually they accepted the offer and ended up in Kirkland.

"She just loved it - Microsoft was the best time of her life, she just considered that family," said her daughter, Yvonne Weinstein.

Lubow met her husband in New York, where her family arrived in 1940 after fleeing her native Italy. Weinstein said they barely made it out - her grandfather gave a cigar box full of cash to someone at the consulate, and the next day their passports arrived.

All four of Lubow's children worked odd jobs for Microsoft in the early days, doing things like stuffing envelopes. Two of them, Michelle Weinberg and Warren Lubow, went on to work for the company as adults.

Last year, after the cancer was discovered, Lubow went and told Gates and Paul Allen about her condition.
It resonated especially with Allen, who survived Hodgkin's lymphoma that was diagnosed in 1983, prompting his retirement from Microsoft.

"He treated her like quadruple gold," said her friend and neighbor, Steve Silverman.

After going to visit Gates, she told Silverman how amazing it was to have to get past three secretaries and security staff to reach him. She told Silverman she was the company's sixth employee; the family thought she may have been the seventh.

Lubow remained extremely protective of the Microsoft executives' privacy, telling Silverman once that "that's my secret life."

Lubow worked off and on for the company for about 10 ten years. She received stock, but it didn't make her a Microsoft millionaire.

"She had some, but she ended up using it for her kids - for college tuition early on," Weinstein said.

Yet money wasn't the most important thing, Weinstein said: "It wasn't a job for her, it was pure joy."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Congregation Kol Ami, which shares space with Bear Creek United Methodist Church in Woodinville.

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