Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Melinda Gates making remarks during a panel discussion on investing in adolescents to improve nutrition, education, etc. as part of the IMF and World Bank's 2017 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington, United States. (Image: Reuters/Mike Theiler)
Bill and Melinda Gates announced on May 3 that they were getting divorced. However, the couple said that they would continue to work together at their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organisations in the world.
Microsoft co-founder Bill and his wife Melinda said in identical tweets that they had made the decision to end their marriage of 27 years.
“We have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives,” they said in a statement. “We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”
Bill Gates was formerly the world’s richest person and his fortune is estimated at well over $100 billion.
Early years at Microsoft
Born in August 1964 in Texas, Melinda Ann French showed early interest in computer games and the BASIC programming language after being introduced to the Apple II by her father.
Melinda earned her bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Duke University and went on to pursue MBA from the varsity’s Fuqua School of Business in 1987.
She first started as a marketing manager with Microsoft and was responsible for the development of various multimedia products such as Encarta, Expedia and Publisher.
Melinda later became the General Manager of Information Products at Microsoft and held the position until 1996 when she left the company. She later served as a member of the Board of Trustees at Duke University.
In her 2019 memoir, “The Moment of Lift,” Melinda wrote about her childhood, life and private struggles as the wife of a public icon and stay-at-home mom with three kids. She said that she won Bill’s heart after meeting at a work dinner, sharing a mutual love of puzzles and beating him at a math game. The Gateses had married in 1994 in Hawaii.
She also detailed the ways they navigated imbalances in their marriage and parenting journey and noted how working together at the foundation made their relationship better.
“Bill and I are equal partners,” Melinda Gates said in a 2019 interview with The Associated Press. “Men and women should be equal at work.”
Melinda and Bill have children Jennifer, Phoebe and Rory Gates, and live in a mansion overlooking Lake Washington in Washington state.
How the couple end up settling their estate and any impact on the foundation will be closely watched, especially after another high-profile Seattle-area billionaire couple recently ended their marriage.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos finalised their divorce in 2019. MacKenzie Scott has since remarried and now focuses on her own philanthropy after receiving a 4 percent stake in Amazon, worth more than $36 billion.
Read: Gates' divorce evokes comparison with that of Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott
In this May 4, 2001, file photo, Bill Gates contends with an ill-fitting hard hat while his wife, Melinda Gates, looks on in Seattle at the groundbreaking of the University of Washington's new law school facility. (Image: AP Photo/Andy Rogers, File)
Melinda and Bill started the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. She currently serves as the co-chair of the organisation.
Over the years, it has grown into being one of the most influential private foundations in the world, with an endowment worth nearly $50 billion. It has focused on global health and development and education issues in the United States.
Melinda has increasingly built her profile as a champion of women and girls. In 2015, she founded Pivotal Ventures – an investment and incubation company aimed at advancing social progress for women and families in the United States.
The former tech business executive has partnered with Scott for a newly announced equity challenge.
For now, Bill and Melinda have said that they will "continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work at the foundation".
"But we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives," they said in a joint statement.
File image: Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft (center), and Melinda (left) in Dhaka, Bangladesh as part of their work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Image: AP Photo/Gazi Sarwar, File)
In 2005, Melinda and Bill were named by Time magazine as the 'Persons of the Year' alongside rock bank U2's lead vocalist Bono.
In 2016, US President Barack Obama awarded Melinda and Bill with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropic efforts.
Melinda, along with her husband, was awarded the Legion of Honour – France's highest national award – in 2017. The same year, she was listed by Richtopia at number 12 in the list of '200 Most Influential Philanthropists and Social Entrepreneurs Worldwide'.
She was also ranked number 5 on the Forbes' Power Women 2020 list.(With inputs from The Associated Press)