Bruce Bastian, Utah tech giant and ‘champion of LGBTQ+ rights,’ dies at 76

Bastian was a co-founder of WordPerfect and played a key part in Utah’s LGBTQ+ community.

Bruce Bastian, a key figure in Utah’s tech and LGBTQ+ communities, has died.

Bastian died Sunday morning, according to Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. A family friend shared that Bastian died from “complications associated with pulmonary fibrosis.” He was 76.

Bastian was the co-founder of WordPerfect, the word processing application he launched as a grad student at Brigham Young University with his professor, Alan Ashton, in 1979. WordPerfect, originally designed for the city of Orem, became immensely popular in the ’80s and ’90s.

By 1990, the company employed more than 7,000 people. That year, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Bastian and Ashton were 208th and 209th on Forbes’ annual list of the 400 richest people in America, with a net worth of $475 million each.

In 1991, Forbes estimated Bastian and Ashton’s net worth was $600 million each. That year, The New York Times reported that the privately owned company, with Bastian as chairman, ranked fourth among personal computer software publishers — behind Microsoft, Lotus and Novell. In 1994, Novell, also based in Utah, bought WordPerfect and put Bastian on its board of directors; he resigned a year later.

Bastian shared much of his fortune through the B.W. Bastian Foundation, which has provided grants to dozens of LGBTQ+ organizations and arts nonprofits over the years. (Disclosure: The Salt Lake Tribune is one of the nonprofits to receive grants from Bastian’s foundation.)

Bruce Wayne Bastian was born March 23, 1948, in Twin Falls, Idaho, the fifth of six siblings. According to David Parkinson, a family friend, Bastian’s giving spirit was something he learned when he was young, watching his father donate groceries from their family store to those in need.

After high school, Bastian served a mission in Italy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then enrolled in Brigham Young University. He graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in music education. He played saxophone, and was director of the Cougars Marching Band. Later, he earned a master’s degree in computer science.

In 1976, Bastian married Melanie Laycock. They were married for 17 years, and divorced in 1993. Melanie Bastian died in 2016; her mansion in Orem opened in 2023 as Utah Valley University’s Museum of Art at Lakemount Manor.

Bastian married his partner Clint Ford in 2018. In a 2020 interview for the podcast series Mormon Stories, Bastian reflected on being married to Ford, saying he was “happier than he’s ever been.”

“It has really taken down all the barriers,” Bastian said. “I really am on this kick now of authenticity ... that process takes guts, maybe, but it’s actually easier to do than some might expect.”

Bastian also said Ford helped him in his personal growth, because Ford knows him so well. Ford added that “we feel like we are who we are and there’s no hiding it.”

News of Bastian’s death spread through local nonprofit and community organizations on Sunday morning.

“No individual has had a greater impact on the lives of LGBTQ Utahns,” Williams wrote in an Equality Utah newsletter.

In a statement to The Tribune, Williams added, “All of our progress as a community over the past three decades can be traced directly back to Bruce. He was our mentor and benefactor, and most importantly, our friend.”

Williams said Bastian’s impact could not be “underscored enough. … We simply would not be where we are today without his love and support. To honor his remarkable life, we are going to recommit ourselves to his great passion: the advancement of freedom and equality for all Americans.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Sunday, on the social media platform X, that she was “saddened” by Bastian’s death.

“He leaves a formidable legacy in Salt Lake City, our state and beyond,” Mendenhall wrote. “It’s one which we can all exemplify — working to make this world a better place — whether through leadership in tech, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, supporting the arts or those we see in need in our community.”

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

Many of the organizations Bastian championed took time to remember his philanthropic and personal legacies.

In an Instagram post, Project Rainbow Utah characterized Bastian as “our largest supporter since the beginning.”

The Human Rights Campaign called Bastian, who was a board member for 22 years, a “champion of LGBTQ+ rights.”

“It’s hard to overstate the immense footprint he leaves behind for LGBTQ+ advocates in Washington, D.C., Utah and beyond,” Kelley Robinson, HRC’s president, said in a statement. “Bruce stood up for every one of us and uplifted the beautiful diversity of our community. It’s the kind of legacy we should all be proud to propel forward.”

The group also acknowledged Bastian’s contributions to defeating the Federal Marriage Amendment, introduced in Congress in 2004, which would have meant marriage could only take place between a man and a woman. According to Ballotpedia, a digital encyclopedia of American politics, Bastian donated $364,000 to defeat the Utah Marriage Amendment. The Tribune reported at the time that Bastian contributed half of the Don’t Amend Alliance’s budget for fighting the amendment.

The Utah Democratic Party noted that in 2008, Bastian donated $1 million to campaign against California’s Proposition 8, which would have banned same-sex marriage there. California voters passed the proposition, but it was later declared unconstitutional by a federal court.

Chad Call, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, said in a statement that “[Bastian’s] support made it possible for the Utah Pride Center and other organizations to expand services, outreach programs and educational initiatives that have made a real, tangible difference in the lives of countless community members.”

Bastian’s philanthropy also extended to the performing arts. Bastian was a supporter of such organizations as the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera and Ballet West. Bastian donated 55 Steinway pianos to the University of Utah during the renovation of Kingsbury Hall. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Bastian to the Presidential Advisory Committee of the Arts.

Ballet West, in an email statement, wrote that “[Bastian’s] significant contributions over many years played an important role in bringing Ballet West to national prominence.”

Leslie Peterson, vice president of development for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, said in a statement, “Bruce loved music and wanted to share that love with others. His generosity to USUO through the B.W. Bastian Foundation, beginning in 1992 and since 2010 directed to USUO education programs, has helped ensure that students all over Utah have the opportunity to be connected through music.”

In 2010, Bastian spoke to Salt Lake City Weekly about the experience and his background on why he was interested in funding the arts. “Unless you want to be unfeeling robots, we need something artistic in our lives. If you believe in spiritual nurturing, the arts touch the soul,” Bastian said.

“Mostly, people think gay rights or HRC [Human Rights Campaign] when they hear my name. I don’t think they see the connection between me and the arts, which is partly the way life is. I’ll be remembered for what I am remembered for,” Bastian told City Weekly in 2010.

Bastian is survived by his husband, Clint Ford; three siblings: Reese, Camille and Marietta; his four sons: Rick (Heather), Darren (Lisa), Jeff (Cristi) and Robert (Amy); and 14 grandchildren. Two siblings, Lewis Bastian and Connie Embree, died previously.

A funeral service is scheduled for Friday, July 5, at 11 a.m., at Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City — on the University of Utah campus. A viewing and reception will follow until 4 p.m.

In place of flowers, Bastian’s family urges people make donations in his name to the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Utah, Utah Pride Center, Ballet West, Best Friends, UAF Legacy Health or any local LGBTQ+ or arts organization.