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Bill and Melinda Gates announce decision to end marriage after 27 years

Geekwire logo Geekwire 5/3/2021 Kurt Schlosser
Melinda Gates et al. taking a selfie: Bill and Melinda Gates at the University of Washington in 2017. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota) © Provided by Geekwire Bill and Melinda Gates at the University of Washington in 2017. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Bill and Melinda Gates announced Monday that they are ending their marriage after 27 years, sending shockwaves through their hometown and around the world where their philanthropic work has touched tens of millions.

In tweets on Monday from their separate personal accounts, and signed by the couple, the Gateses said that the decision came after a “great deal of thought and work.” They said they no longer believe they can grow together as a couple in this “next phase” of their lives.

The Microsoft co-founder began dating Melinda French after she started at Microsoft in 1987. The two married on Jan. 1, 1994, raised three children together and grew into one of the world’s richest and most influential pairings.

After leaving day-to-day duties at Microsoft, the couple’s focus turned to philanthropy, global health and education with the start of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. Headquartered in Seattle and co-chaired by the couple, the foundation has grown to become the world’s largest charitable foundation, with 1,600 employees and $54.8 billion issued in total grant payments since inception.

The couple said in their shared tweet on Monday that they continue to believe in the mission of the foundation and will continue their work together there.

Melinda Gates, Bill Gates sitting in front of a crowd: Bill and Melinda Gates visiting women in Jamsaut village in Bihar, India. (Gates Foundation Photo) © Provided by Geekwire Bill and Melinda Gates visiting women in Jamsaut village in Bihar, India. (Gates Foundation Photo)

Bill Gates is the fourth richest person on the planet with a net worth of $130.5 billion. Melinda Gates was No. 5 on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women in 2020. Bill Gates owns 1.37% of Microsoft’s outstanding shares, which are worth more than $26 billion, according to CNBC. He stepped off the Microsoft board in March 2020, but remains as a technology adviser to CEO Satya Nadella, and also makes investments through his Gates Ventures private office.

RELATED: Divorce fallout: What happens to the Gates Foundation when Bill and Melinda are no longer married?

In 2015, Melinda Gates established a new organization called Pivotal Ventures, an independent executive office that gave her the opportunity to pursue ideas, projects and investments that might not fit within the structure of the Gates Foundation. On Monday, Melinda Gates added her maiden name to her Twitter profile and a tagline on her company website.

It’s not yet clear what will happen to the Gates fortune, which includes more than 200,000 acres of farmland and holdings in various companies.

Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair Emeritus at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, told GeekWire that news of the split makes him terribly sad.

“Two amazing people who have — working together — made the world a vastly better place,” Lazowska said of the Gateses.

Melinda Gates sitting at a table: Melinda and Bill Gates pose for their annual letter, which answers “10 tough questions” that they’re regularly asked. (Gates Foundation Photo) © Provided by Geekwire Melinda and Bill Gates pose for their annual letter, which answers “10 tough questions” that they’re regularly asked. (Gates Foundation Photo)

The divorce is the second high-profile split among Seattle’s rich and powerful tech leaders in recent years. Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced in January 2019 that they were splitting after 25 years of marriage. MacKenzie Scott, now the ex-wife of the Amazon CEO, married Seattle school teacher Dan Jewett earlier this year.

MacKenzie Scott has made a philanthropic splash as one of the world’s richest women, giving away more than $5 billion in 2020 to a variety of organizations as part of The Giving Pledge.

The Gateses have already pledged to give away a majority of their wealth as part of the same pledge, which they helped create with Warren Buffett in 2010.

The Gates Foundation says it adds $1.5 billion to the Seattle-area economy each year. It has given millions to the University of Washington, which opened The Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science and Engineering in 2019. As of December, the foundation had committed $1.75 billion to the global COVID-19 pandemic response.

a group of people posing for the camera: Bill and Melinda Gates each receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2016 at The White House. (The White House via YouTube) © Provided by Geekwire Bill and Melinda Gates each receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2016 at The White House. (The White House via YouTube)

The Gateses have long painted a picture of success and happiness when it comes to the public image of their marriage. In a podcast interview last summer, Bill Gates called himself “super lucky” and said, “This is the most profound partnership of my life. I had a partnership with Paul Allen to found Microsoft, I had one with Steve Ballmer to turn it into an amazing company. With our Foundation, with our kids, with our marriage, I’ve got this amazing person,” he said of his wife.

In the 2019 Netflix series “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates,” Melinda Gates laughed uncontrollably when the directors of the film relayed the name of the documentary series.

“I am sorry, I am just not going to be able to not laugh in this part,” when asked to describe Bill’s brain. Asked why she was laughing so much, Melinda exclaimed: “Cause it’s chaos. There’s so much complexity in there.”

Later in episode three of the documentary series, it was revealed that Bill Gates — prior to marrying Melinda — wrote on a whiteboard the pros and cons of marriage. Bill Gates worried that he would not be able to juggle family life alongside Microsoft.

“She had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft,” Bill said in the documentary. “We were like, ‘Hey we are not really serious about each other, are we? We are not going to demand each other’s time.’”

But the two kept dating, and Bill noted: “Sort of to our surprise, certainly my surprise, we said, ‘Hey, I love you.’ And she said she loved me and then it was like, ‘Wow, and now what is going to happen?’”

During a May 2019 Seattle stop on a tour for her book “The Moment of Lift,” Melinda Gates was introduced at McCaw Hall by her husband. His emotions got the best of him.

“My gift to Melinda is simply to tell her that the moment we met was my moment of lift,” Bill Gates said, holding back tears on stage.

The end of his marriage adds to a particularly tough several months for Bill Gates, whose father Bill Gates Sr. died last September at the age of 94.

“It is difficult to overstate what he meant to me, to our family, and to our foundation,” Melinda Gates said of the senior Gates at the time. In 2015, when her husband’s father turned 90, she shared a touching photo on Facebook, dancing with him on her wedding day.

The New York Times reported that the Gateses have dealt with relationship struggles over the past several years and there were moments when the marriage “neared collapse.”

a man and a woman playing a video game: ( Facebook Photo via Melinda Gates ) © Provided by Geekwire ( Facebook Photo via Melinda Gates )

GeekWire has reached out to representatives for Bill and Melinda Gates and will update with any further comment.

Update: Here’s the petition for divorce document filed in King County — Bill Gates signed it from Palm Desert, Calif., while Melinda Gates signed it from Bellevue, Wash. Melinda Gates is listed as the petitioner, with the document noting that the “marriage is irretrievably broken.” It also notes the Gateses have a separation contract in place.

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