What has sparked Bill and Melinda Gates divorce after 27 years together

The couple said in a statement they would continue to work together at their namesake philanthropic foundation.

Bill, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, and Melinda, an author and businesswoman, announced their decision to separate after 27 years of marriage in a statement tweeted from their personal accounts [File: Elaine Thompson/AP Photo]

Updated at 9:05 GMT on Tuesday 3 May 2021

Bill and Melinda Gates said on Monday they had decided to divorce after 27 years of marriage, but would continue to work together at their namesake philanthropic foundation, in an announcement that shocked the world of philanthropy.

Bill, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, and Melinda, an author and businesswoman, announced their decision to separate in an identical statement posted on their individual Twitter accounts.

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“Over the last 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,” the statement read. “We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

The couple, who met at Microsoft and married in Hawaii in 1994, asked for privacy.

A joint petition for dissolution of marriage filed by the couple in King County Superior Court in Seattle stated: “The marriage is irretrievably broken.”

The couple asked the court to approve their agreement on division of assets, but did not disclose details, according to Reuters news agency.

Bill Gates, 65, founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen.

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His net worth stands at an estimated $130.5bn, according to Forbes, and he has donated $35.8bn worth of Microsoft stock to the couple’s foundation.

He announced last year he would be stepping down from Microsoft’s board to focus full-time on his work as the foundation’s co-chair.

Melinda Gates, 56, serves as the foundation’s co-chair and is the founder of Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company that focuses on advancing the interests of American women and families.null

Launched in 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one of the biggest in the world, with net assets of $43.3 billion at the end of in 2019, according to its website.

The foundation provided $5.1bn to grantees in 135 countries in 2019, and employs 1,602 people.

In 2020, the foundation announced it was committing more than $1.75bn to support the global response to COVID-19.

Since its inception, the foundation said it has awarded more than $54.8bn in direct payments focussing its activities on health, development and climate.

Future direction

The pair “will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues and set the organization’s overall direction,” the Gates Foundation said in a statement.

Melinda and Bill Gates won plaudits around the world for their philanthropic work and were awarded the Commanders of the Legion of Honour at the Elysee Palace in Paris in 2017 [File: Kamil Zihnioglu/Pool via Reuters]

The Gates’ is the second high-profile divorce among tech’s ultra-wealthy in recent years. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Scott, separated in 2019 after 25 years of marriage.

Scott, an author and philanthropist, went on to donate $5.7bn of her fortune in 2020 to charities focused on racial justice and food insecurity. She married Dan Jewett,who worked as a chemistry teacher at her children’s school, earlier this year.

David Callahan, founder of the Insider Philanthropy website and author of ‘The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age’ says it is too early to know how the Gates’ Foundation will be affected by the divorce.null

Melinda Gates, who has begun using the name Melinda French Gates recently, has been turning her attention to women and girls and secured Scott’s support in a $40m gender equality fund that is due to make its first awards later this year.

“You can imagine two separate tracks where they’re both working together at the foundation, and each is pursuing their own independent philanthropy outside the foundation,” Callahan told the Associated Press.

“Nobody knows what the terms are of their divorce agreement. But if Melinda Gates ends up with some portion of that wealth and turns to creating her own foundation, it would be among one of the biggest foundations probably in America.”

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.

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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.null

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.

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)

Philanthropy

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)

Recognition

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, AJ & News Agency)

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