Melinda Gates is best known as Bill’s other half. Some may even say she’s his
Nonetheless, the pair — whose combined net worth is $US85.7 billion — have made it their life’s mission to eradicate global poverty through initiatives in education, healthcare, and, most importantly, genuine human connection.
The Gateses topped our recent list of wealthiest couples in the world, and yet they have pledged to give away 95% of their wealth through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which Melinda helmed virtually on her own for the first six years of operation.
Here’s a look at the incredible force that is Melinda Gates.
Melinda Gates (neè French) grew up in Dallas, Texas with her parents -- a stay-at-home mother and an aerospace engineer father -- and her three siblings. The family belonged to the local Roman Catholic parish.
The Frenches were intent on sending all four of their children to college so Melinda's father started a side business for rental properties. 'We would help him run the business and keep the books,' she said. 'We saw money coming in and money going out.'
Melinda was valedictorian and head of the drill team at her high school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas. In 2007, the Gates Foundation donated a total of $7 million to Ursuline for the construction of The French Family Science, Maths, and Technology Center, a 70,000 sq. ft. LEED Gold certified laboratory and classroom building.
She went on to earn a double bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Duke University and an MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business in just five years.
But Melinda's dedication to her school work did not deter her from a social life. She was a member of Duke's Beta Rho chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority. In a 1995 interview, a sorority sister remembered her as a serial monogamist and a reserved dresser.
Melinda has been generous to her alma mater. Her gifts include The French Family Science Center, the University Scholars Program, and the DukeEngage Program. She also served as a Duke trustee from 1996 to 2004.
Shortly after graduation, Melinda was recruited by Microsoft just after the company went public and stocks began to soar. During her time at the company, she served as project manager of Microsoft Bob, Microsoft Encarta, and Expedia.
Melinda calls the couple's first trip to Africa in 1993 the turning point. During a walk on the beach in Zanzibar, they decided to do something about the devastation they'd seen. Thus, The Gates Foundation was born.
In 1994, after seven years of dating, Bill and Melinda married in a secret ceremony on the 17th hole of a Hawaiian golf course after a pre-wedding fireworks display and a performance by Willie Nelson. Melinda reportedly paid less than $20,000 for her wedding dress and reception outfit.
Melinda gave birth to her three children in 1996, 1999, and 2002. The Gates children will not be given trust funds or inheritances from their wealthy parents. 'We want to strike a balance where they have the freedom to do anything but not a lot of money showered on them so they could go out and do nothing,' Melinda said last year.
The Gates children have all been to Africa a number of times for philanthropic work. In 2014, Melinda and her eldest daughter travelled to Tanzania to do a homestay for the first time. In a TED talk last year, Melinda said, 'As they get older, they so know that our family belief is about responsibility, that we are in an unbelievable situation just to live in the United States and have a great education, and we have a responsibility to give back to the world.'
In 2006, Warren Buffett agreed to give 80% of his multi-billion dollar fortunate to the Gates Foundation. Buffet, a close friend of the family, told Fortune, 'He's (Bill) smart as hell, obviously...But in terms of seeing the whole picture, she's (Melinda) smarter.'