Women Making History

6 Seattle Luminaries on Their First Big Wins

From judicial prowess to championship bona fides.

By Allison Williams, Allecia Vermillion, and Lily Hansen November 26, 2019 Published in the December 2019 issue of Seattle Met

From left: Melinda Gates, Amy Hood, Mary Yu, Lady Willie Forbus.

Image: Jane Sherman

The Time Renee Erickson Held Off a Critic 

Before Renee Erickson owned a score of restaurants, bars, and doughnut shops around the city, she was a panicked 25-year-old, in her very first week as owner of Seattle’s venerated Boat Street Cafe. That weekend in 1998 was when then–Seattle Weekly critic Kathryn Robinson came to dine. “My dad was in the kitchen with me; my mom was waiting tables,” the chef recalls. When Erickson received a follow-up call to discuss that decidedly unimpressive meal, she asked the critic, straight out, not to write a review of Boat Street in its transitional state.

Robinson, whose subsequent tenure at this magazine confirmed she’s hardly a pushover regarding chefs, came back months later for a piece that ran under the headline “Simple Magnificence.” “I don’t know that I’d do that now,” says Erickson, whose next spot, the Walrus and the Carpenter, quickly landed on the front page of The New York Times travel section. 

The Time Sue Bird Found a Fan Base

Halftime at a St. John’s University women’s basketball game, early ’90s. A youth team plays a quick scrimmage; most of the crowd goes for bathroom breaks and snack bar refills, but a security guard is wowed by one preteen. He asks 11-year-old Sue Bird for her autograph when she leaves the court, sure she’d be big one day.

Cut to two college titles at UConn, a player of the year trophy, and the first pick of the 2002 WNBA Draft by a struggling Seattle Storm. Bird led the team to three championships (and picked up four gold medals on the U.S. Olympic squad), all as a 5’9’’ point guard. Her fans are still legion, including girlfriend and soccer star Megan Rapinoe, with whom she adds real muscle to the term “power couple.” 

First Ladies

Lady Willie Forbus

First in Legal Breakthroughs
Admitted to the state bar in 1918, she was the first woman in Seattle with a solo law practice; she served Lady Justice for 65 years, through state senate and assistant attorney general terms.

Mary Yu

First in Unprecedented Rulings
Count ’em—she’s the first Latina, first Asian, and first LGBTQ member of the state supreme court. In 2012 she officiated the first legal gay wedding in Washington.

Amy Hood

First in Stock Boosting from the C-Suite
Since she was named Microsoft CFO in 2013, the company’s stock price has risen almost 300 percent while she helped obtain Github and steered the company toward cloud operations.

Melinda Gates

First in Giving It All Away
Microsoft may be known as her husband’s company, but she gets equal billing for the foundation they launched and in giving away $45 billion of their fortune (so far).