This street, which runs ⅕ of a mile from the “five corners” intersection with NE 45th Street, NE 45th Place, and Union Bay Place NE in the northwest to NE 41st Street in the southeast, was created in 1911 as an extension of Union Bay Place. It was renamed in 1995 in honor of Mary Maxwell Gates (1929–1994), mother of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a member of the University of Washington Board of Regents from 1975 to 1993.
The original proposal was to also change the name of NE 41st Street between Union Bay Place NE and Surber Drive NE to NE Mary Gates Memorial Drive, but this was not done. An article in the March 14, 1995, issue of The Seattle Times reports that “City Councilwoman Sue Donaldson said the Laurelhurst Community Club, the university and its neighbors near Union Bay Place Northeast joined yesterday in asking” for the name change, and an article in the September 1995 issue of Columns, then the name of the University of Washington alumni magazine, reports Donaldson as saying “The new name is particularly fitting… because it was the route Gates took from home to campus.”
I have never seen an explanation as to why the proposed name wasn’t simply Mary Gates Drive NE — it is the only “memorial” thoroughfare in town.