The untold truth of Bill Gates’ wife

Bill Gates — the co-founder of Microsoft — hardly needs an introduction. But this tech giant’s wife, Melinda Gates, is equally as impressive. The couple co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “the largest private charitable foundation” in the world “with a $40 billion trust endowment,” according to Forbes. Melinda’s heavy involvement with the philanthropic organization landed her the number six spot on Forbes‘ annual list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.”

Way back in the early ’90s when the Gates were first married, the press couldn’t get enough. What would life be like for the woman who just married the world’s most influential bachelor? Practically predicting the future, The Seattle Times talked about Melinda French — her maiden name — in 1995. “French has the capacity to become one of Seattle’s great benefactors. Some predict that she will someday head up a Gates foundation.” But no one could have guessed the eventual power and reach of the foundation. 

After all, is that what you would have done with all that money? This is the untold truth of Bill Gates’ wife, Melinda Gates.

Trendsetting is just a byproduct of being Melinda Gates

Sure, Melinda Gates is one of the most powerful women in the world. But she still deeply cares about her responsibility as a mother of three: Jennifer Katharine, Rory John, and Phoebe Adele. “On the day I die, I want people to think that I was a great mom and a great family member and a great friend. I care about that more than I care about anything else … And I always have to remember that, at the end of the day, my kids come first,” she told Fortune in a spotlight on famous CEOs.

Gates told CNBC a story of struggling to deal with parenting duties, particularly finding time to drop her first daughter — the amazing and beautiful Jennifer Gates — off at kindergarten. She recalls Bill asked, “What could I do to make it easier?” Melinda convinced him to drive their daughter to school twice a week — and the other parents took notice. “Three weeks in, I started to notice more dads were driving and showing up with their kids,” Melinda said. One of the moms told her, “Yeah, we went home with our hands on hips and said, ‘If Bill Gates can drive his kids to school, then by gosh, you can too!'”

A major setback was a learning experience for Melinda Gates

Even prior to marrying Bill Gates, Melinda Gates worked her way up in the Microsoft organization as a talented leader. One of her biggest early projects was as lead developer for the program called Microsoft Bob. This program, which famously flopped, aimed to make it easier and more accessible for regular users at home to interact with their personal computers. Gates penned a summary on LinkedIn of her experience on the project. “I understood that flops like this were part of the process — in fact, we used to joke that you had to have a major failure to get your first promotion,” she said. But the worst part was the negative feedback from the press and that it was the first time she failed so bad publicly.

In the face of negativity, Gates pushed forward and even addressed the media “in a T-shirt that had a Microsoft Bob logo on the front … and then, when I turned around, a bright red target on the back.” She said in the end, the entire experience “provided a chance to pause, learn something, and choose a new and better direction.” And it wasn’t all for nothing. Pieces of the program still remain — most notably, the fun Comic Sans font.

Melinda Gates fights for rights

Melinda Gates knows first-hand what it’s like to be a strong, driven woman in the workplace. So, when she started her philanthropic work, one of her main missions was to support and progress gender equality throughout the world. Did she put her money where her mouth is? You bet. In 2019, Gates pledged $1 billion to gender equality, which she detailed in an article for Time. “Equality can’t wait, and no one in a position to act should either,” she wrote.

In a podcast discussion for the Harvard Business Review, Gates elaborated on why the cause is so important to her. “And as I started to look at those issues more systematically I realized that we had to look at the gender piece and we had to start making investments there or we just wouldn’t get very far in much of our work.” It’s inspiring to see this CEO is paving a better path for women and she calls on everyone to do its part to improve the world. In her words, “When we stand together, that is when you create change.”

Where do these billionaires live?

Right after Melinda Gates and her famous husband got married in early January 1994, Melinda said she had “a mini sort of personal crisis,” via Fortune. This crisis, which falls squarely in the realm of first world problems, was about the house her spouse planned to build outside Seattle, Wash. Even a billionaire bachelor still has similar tendencies as any regular new husband. As Melinda put it, the home Bill envisioned “was a bachelor’s dream and a bride’s nightmare.” Just how bad was it? The Washington home consisted of “40,000 square feet with several garages, a trampoline room, an indoor pool, a theater with a popcorn machine, and enough software and high-tech displays to make a newlywed feel as though she were living inside a video game.”

As the voice of reason, Melinda had a completely different vision of a dream home. She told her husband, “If I do move in, it’s going to be like I want it to be — our house where we have our family life.” It didn’t take long to convince Bill — in about six months she hired a new architect to completely overhaul the project. The couple “worked together to create intimate spaces, an office for her, and staff quarters out of sight and on the periphery.”

Bill Gates takes second place to his wife

Though he was once the richest man in the world (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos holds the distinction, as of this writing), it doesn’t mean Bill Gates can win at everything. This is especially true when it comes to his wife, Melinda Gates, who consistently outperforms her husband. [Fun fact: Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are actually collectively richer than several countries.]

First, let’s chat education. Bill is famously “Harvard’s most celebrated dropout,” according to Fortune, while Melinda graduated with a double major in computer science and economics, plus an MBA from Duke University. Second, “Melinda also outperforms him athletically,” the article continued. She reportedly runs at a speedy seven miles-per-hour and exercises around five days a week, while still dealing with the demands of running the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the article, Melinda “has completed the Seattle marathon and climbed, with ropes and crampons, to the peak of 14,410-foot Mount Rainier.” At least she gave a little credit to her husband when she admitted, “He’s finally started to run in the last year.”

Melinda even has a leg up in games. She revealed to The Cut, “I beat Bill twice at Clue, and he couldn’t believe it. We still do races with puzzles for fun.” You probably guessed the outcome. “I still beat him pretty often,” she said.

Melinda Gates' first love

It may come as a complete surprise that the wife of the cofounder of Microsoft and a former Microsoft employee herself didn’t use the company’s MS-DOS software as a kid. Quite the opposite, Melinda Gates learned to love computers from chief rival, Apple. She fondly remembers interacting with the Apple II — one of the first home computers — as a child. “I finagled it to be in my bedroom so I could play games on it,” she told Fortune. And not just for games, she learned the BASIC programming language “and taught it to other kids during summer vacations.”

As a teenager, Gates’ father Ray brought home the Apple III computer, which only heightened her love of computers. Older and more experienced with computing, she assisted her father with a side business of operating rental properties. “We would help him run the business and keep the books,” she said. In fact, this computer meant so much to her that she kept the machine even after starting work at Microsoft. Gates revealed to Popular Mechanics, “it reminded me of how a computer changed my life.” And she added, “Even now, as we run our foundation, the Apple III is a symbol of our conviction that innovation makes the future better for everyone.”

The many famous friends of Melinda Gates

By being married to Bill Gates and contributing billions of dollars to charitable causes, Melinda Gates picked up some amazing friends. One of those is billionaire investor and suprisingly modest homeowner Warren Buffett, “The Oracle of Omaha.” And he has his own close circle of high-level buddies. “One of the things I was most impressed about when Bill and I met Warren Buffett very early on was he introduced us to his friends,” Melinda told Fortune. “And Warren has the most high quality set of friends you could meet, and these are friends that he has had over his lifetime.” Even billionaires can learn a thing or two about meeting people and forming relationships. “And it really got me thinking, ‘Wow, I better cultivate my friends,'” she said.

Buffett likewise has nice things to say about his close friends Bill and Melinda. He told Fortune about Bill, “He’s smart as hell, obviously.” And what about Melinda? “But in terms of seeing the whole picture, she’s smarter,” Buffett admitted. Outside of billionaires, the Gates have a few other high-profile people to call in favors. For example, Bill asked Barack Obama to make a special message for Melinda’s book launch. As recounted by The Oprah Magazine, Bill joined his wife on stage for the last night of her book tour and surprised her with the video. Melinda shared the video on Instagram, captioning the post, “An unforgettable end to an unforgettable experience.”  

How Melinda met Bill Gates

So, where does someone go to meet an eligible bachelor and future billionaire? According to Fortune, four months into her job at Microsoft, Melinda Gates took her first trip to New York City for the PC Expo trade show. During the business trip, “she went to a group dinner and sat next to the CEO.” As she recalled, Bill Gates “certainly was funnier than I expected him to be.” And what about his side of the story? Bill said, “I guess her looks” first attracted him to Melinda. Back in Seattle, the couple “ran into each other in a Microsoft parking lot” and according to Melinda, Bill asked, “Will you go out with me two weeks from Friday night?” As she remembers, “I said, ‘Two weeks from Friday? That’s not nearly spontaneous enough for me. I don’t know. Call me up closer to the day.'” 

According to The Seattle Times, “Gates preferred to play the field, but the relationship turned serious by mid-1992, long after his late mother, Mary Gates, had complained that he was taking too long to settle down.” And his mom reportedly would introduce her future daughter-in-law as “Bill’s friend from Microsoft” at parties. Then, by 1994, Bill and Melinda were married and the power couple has been improving the world ever since.

Melinda Gates was a born over-achiever

Melinda Gates was a hardworking and curious child who “grew up on Princess Circle in a middle-class North Dallas neighborhood where neighbors hold the family in high regard,” reported The Seattle Times. As one of four children, she first attended “St. Monica school, where math was her favorite subject.” But it was after this at the all-girls Ursuline Academy that her love for technology began. All thanks to the Apple II and Apple III computers her father purchased for the family. Though the cost of these machines didn’t come easily. As Gates told Fortune, she and the rest of the family spent many weekends working to earn money. “That meant scrubbing floors and cleaning ovens and mowing the lawns,” she confessed.

Gates’ Ursuline computer teacher at Ursuline, Susan Bauer, “once described her as a well-rounded student who joined the drill team and helped other students learn programming,” according to The Seattle Times. Bauer recalled that Gates “was hard-working and personable.” And she summarized quite simply that Gates “was one of the best students I ever had.” The young girl went on to be valedictorian of her class at Ursuline, which got her into Duke University.

A day in the life of Melinda Gates

How would you spend the day as one of the most powerful people in the world? And what if you were married to billionaire Bill Gates? “As a working mom with three busy children, married to a working dad, I’ve learned that calendars are important,” Melinda Gates told The Cut. She also revealed, “I’m a morning person. I like to get up around 6:30 a.m., and I spend that first hour in ‘quiet time.'” This means a mixture of “meditation, some stretching, yoga, and I always do some kind of spiritual reading.” And even in the notoriously dreary Seattle, Wash. weather, she tries her best to go outside to her garden or nearby lake. Before heading to the offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and working with billions of dollars, she makes sure to enjoy some simple pleasures. “I’m from Texas, so about once a week I’ll eat huevos rancheros, which is my all-time favorite,” Melinda revealed.

Her hard work doesn’t go unnoticed by her husband. As reported by Fortune, Melinda once had a particularly long day full of visiting her children’s school, and hosting a charitable dinner. Later that evening, she began worrying about a speech she was set to give to “more than 300 scientists, doctors, and health officials” the next day. Bill’s advice? “Just go to bed!”

Melinda Gates and her high honors

For all their philanthropic work and positive change in the world, Melinda and Bill Gates received a few extraordinary honors. First, in 2016, the former president Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest possible honor for civilians — to the Gates for their charitable foundation. In a video of the ceremony, the White House presenter summarized the couple’s contributions and lasting impact. “Bill and Melinda Gates continue to inspire us with their impatient optimism, that together, we can remake the world as it should be.”

Then in 2017, the French government awarded Melinda and Bill the French Legion of Honor medal. As reported by the Daily Mail, former French president Francois Holland awarded the Gates with the highest national award for their incredible impact through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Maybe this was destiny to receive the award in Paris, given that Melinda’s maiden name is “French.”

How much is Melinda Gates worth?

Life isn’t too bad when you marry one of the wealthiest men in the world. As of early 2020, Bill Gates was worth around $100 billion, making him the second richest man in the world, according to Forbes. And what about Melinda? According to Celebrity Net Worth, she is worth an estimated $70 billion, making her one of the world’s wealthiest wives (Although we’re not really sure how that figure jibes with Forbes’ estimation). With all this dough, it’s no surprise the pair picked up a few items along the way. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2018 that the power couple allegedly purchased a $1.25 million home in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, Ill. The publication couldn’t confirm the owners since a trust purchased the property, but some investigative journalism pointed toward the Gates. This also added speculation that their son Rory would attend the University of Chicago, which is minutes away from the home.

It appears the Gates stayed relatively modest with their purchases, and even early on, Melinda was not one to flaunt her position in the one percent. According to The Seattle Times, “she paid less than $20,000 for her wedding dress and reception ensemble, far less than many society brides.” That’s barely a drop in the bucket.

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