Anyone else would surely have given up by now. Here it is, a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the powder steadily accumulating on the Copper Mountain slopes, creating the kind of ideal conditions that serious shredders only dream about. But Tim Gill is stuck teaching a rank amateur the basics of 'boarding.
"Okay, now, knees forward," he calls out to the careening, out-of-control novice in front of him. "Use your front edge..."
Too late--another crash and tumble. It looks like Gill's going to have to sacrifice a day of double blacks just to help his pupil down this decidedly beginner slope. But if he's at all disappointed about missing out, he doesn't show it. "Hey, you're getting the hang of it," he says, after shoveling his fallen friend out of a mound of snow and helping him dust off.
Then again, Gill's never been one to abandon those in need of a little support. The chairman and founder of Quark, Inc., the Denver-based manufacturer of the world's leading desktop-publishing software, Gill is one of the richest men in Colorado, one of the country's more generous philanthropists and, more important, an openly gay philanthropist. The Colorado Springs foundation that bears his name has given away millions over the last few years in an attempt to strengthen the state's--and the nation's--gay community, still largely an uphill struggle despite some recent victories. But Gill's mission today is hardly that grand. He just needs to get this bumbling idiot down a bunny hill in one piece. And it's Gill's almost palpable passion for the sport that keeps the idiot getting up and trying again.
"Last year I didn't ski at all," Gill says with a subdued but still evangelical tone that manages to convey just how great the sport is once you get the hang of it. In 'boarding, as in life, it's worth muddling through the rough spots. And though this lanky, disarming 44-year-old doesn't look like your average snowboarder (he generally leaves his over-sized jester snow cap at home when he heads for the slopes), he's as passionate as any droopy-drawered teenager out there--and probably a better 'boarder.
But beyond finally smashing through those awful stereotypes about gay computer-geek millionaire snowboarders, Gill disproves another popular notion: the one that makes Colorado's passage of Amendment 2 out to be a bad thing for gays. Not only was the measure overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court--the first time the nation's highest court has confirmed gay rights--but without it, Gill's foundation wouldn't have existed.
Thank a Colorado Springs car salesman named Will Perkins for helping to turn this self-proclaimed "pathological introvert" into one of the most visible gay figures in the country. Last year Gill forked over some $2.5 million to various gay and lesbian organizations, as well as to an array of non-gay community concerns in Colorado; this year he plans to distribute more than $3 million.
Prior to the introduction of Amendment 2, Gill says he thought of himself as a "Doritos and Top Ramen" kind of guy. "It really didn't occur to me that I had more money than other people, as strange as that may sound. And when Amendment 2 came around, I was the largest contributor to the 'No on 2' campaign--about thirty to forty thousand dollars--and I thought 'Gee, that's a nice contribution.' It didn't occur to me that I'd be the largest contributor."
Although Gill says his parents were upper middle-class--his father was a plastic surgeon--the family wasn't consumed with the accumulation of wealth, and those values have stuck with him. He and his boyfriend of eleven years share a comfortable Denver home that's far from the sprawling estate you might expect. And until recently, Gill drove a ten-year-old beaten-up Honda--a fancy car wasn't a concern until he decided that a BMW would make getting over the pass easier on ski getaways.
And in Denver's relatively small and politically apathetic gay community, where a $50 membership card to the "exclusive" Atlantis Room at Club Proteus means more than an invitation to a Human Rights Commission fundraiser, Gill--who's comfortable in jeans and flannel--is more of a fish out of water than a big fish in a small pond. "Sometimes when I go out, I'm one of the better-off people and I'm wearing the scruffiest-looking clothes. I think its the computer-geek gene fighting with the gay gene."
But the passage of Amendment 2 woke Gill up to the benefits of having money--and Quark has made plenty. He wanted to ensure that his resources could be put to good use and so set up his foundation. After a year of trying to run it on his own, he recruited Katherine Pease, whom he'd worked with on the Cheshire Ball, a Gill Foundation-sponsored fundraiser within Colorado's gay community dedicated to various children's organizations. And though he and Pease, a graduate of Colorado College, say that moving Gill's foundation from Denver to the Springs wasn't an overt political challenge to ground zero of the religious right's anti-gay machinery, both note that their organization does help provide some balance in the city.
Gill considers his foundation's outreach special because it is "gay money." But in addition to gay concerns, Gill also grants money to schools, public radio and the Colorado Ballet, among other nonprofits, through the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado. "I have no need for the kind of notoriety that comes with, 'Oh, Tim Gill gave X dollars to the symphony,'" he says. "But it's very important that straight people realize that gay people are involved in their causes, too."
Gill even committed a million dollars to the planned Colorado Ocean Journey aquarium, a donation that kept the entire project afloat. But as testament to his modesty, Gill is quick to point out that with the tax incentives associated with the donation, it will ultimately cost him substantially less than the full million. And though he says he's got a bit of Jacques Cousteau in him (he's also a scuba enthusiast), that's not the entire reason he's pledged the resources: One major exhibit will list the Gay and Lesbian Fund as sponsor.
"If people can see the words 'gay and lesbian' in contexts they don't expect, then I think it makes them think," Gill says. "I just regard the idea of having that out there as endlessly amusing. I think people's reactions to it will be interesting. If it makes them mad enough that they talk about it with other people, then I think it's succeeded. Or if it makes them happy."
And making other people happy is okay by him. Though his snowboarding pupil decides to spend the rest of the afternoon in the ski lodge sipping spiked apple cider, Gill's still got his work cut out for him. On his way down, he discovers two crying little kids, a brother and sister separated from their parents, stuck on a too-steep mountain in need of guidance getting down.
Oh, well. There's always next weekend--and at least this battle is a downhill one.
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