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Saturday, July 17, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Jill Bennett founded cancer group

By Matthew Rodriguez
Seattle Times staff reporter

Jill Bennett "wanted to help other people."
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Jill Bennett endured several treatments for breast cancer, including participating alone in a study that led to a vaccine, which now is being used to treat about 100 women.

In 2002, she founded Northwest Cancer Partners, a local nonprofit group that aims to help cancer patients by speeding up clinical trials based on the latest research.

She hoped that a cure would be found in her lifetime, and she held on to that hope until the end.

Ms. Bennett, widely known in the high-tech industry and a leading cancer-research advocate in Seattle, died Wednesday (July 14) of cancer. She was 48.

"She was a remarkable human being — gifted, dedicated, and full of life," said Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman. "She fought her cancer as bravely as anyone I've ever known. She never gave in — she actually found strength in bringing attention to the issue and inspiring people to work toward a cure."

Ms. Bennett graduated from Washington State University in 1978 and spent much of her career working in the high-tech industry.

While working as a Prime Computer sales representative in 1983, Ms. Bennett met Gates, according to the book "Gates" by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews. Gates and Ms. Bennett dated for a couple of years and remained friends.

Ms. Bennett worked from 1983 to 1997 for Digital Equipment Corporation. In 1991, while in Boston, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ms. Bennett returned to Seattle and, in 1997, began working for the software company WRQ.

Doug Walker, chairman and CEO of WRQ, said Ms. Bennett was a "dynamic leader" who had a good sense of the high-tech industry and was known as a community leader. Ms. Bennett worked at WRQ until 2002, when she founded Northwest Cancer Partners.

Ms. Bennett was passionate about getting cancer research to patients who needed it most. In her battle with the disease, Ms. Bennett embodied tremendous grace, too, said Barbara Frederick, executive director of Cancer Lifeline, where Ms. Bennett once served as a board member.

"Everything she did, I always thought she had a touch of class," Frederick said. "Each step along the way, I think she showed extraordinary courage in making decisions about treatment and how she was going to live her life."

Ms. Bennett was known for her optimism and sense of humor. Longtime friend Kerry Brock recalled three wig-shopping trips with Ms. Bennett. On the first, Ms. Bennett was reluctant, but by the third, they encountered singer Carly Simon, and Brock recalled Ms. Bennett saying, "I'll have what she's having."

Ms. Bennett also served on the board of the Pike Place Market, and friend and fellow board member Jeannie Nordstrom described her as a gracious host who was "really a joy to be around."

"She wanted to help other people," Nordstrom said. "She really wanted to improve the community and the world, and she did so."

Ms. Bennett created the Mary Gates Lectureship Series in 2003, bringing doctors, scientists and survivors together on an annual basis. This year, Ms. Bennett was too ill to attend, but she still held out hope for a cure, said John Seigenthaler, Brock's husband and an NBC News anchor. Seigenthaler has been the emcee of the series.

"She still had great hope that we are very close to finding a cure," he said. "We remember and we carry with us that spirit, that great spirit that she had for life."

Brock, a friend of Ms. Bennett's since college, said Ms. Bennett "didn't want to talk about her problems. She was interested in what was going on with you. She did say, 'Why me?' Then she'd shake her head and say, 'Because I'm going to do something about it.' "

Gregg Bennett of Bellevue, Ms. Bennett's oldest brother, described his sister as someone who was "passionate, compassionate, and wanting to make a difference," facing her disease with "remarkable inner strength."

Other survivors include Ms. Bennett's father, Will Bennett of Las Vegas, and siblings Jan Bennett and Todd Bennett, both of Bellevue; Kelly Bennett-Watt of Issaquah, and Scott Bennett of Redmond.

A celebration of her life will be held at 4 p.m. today at the Grand Hyatt Seattle, 721 Pine St.

Contributions can be made to Northwest Cancer Partners, c/o Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, P.O. Box 19024, Seattle, WA 98109-1024.

Matthew Rodriguez: 206-464-3192 or mrodriguez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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