Melinda Gates on ‘unbelievably painful’ divorce: ‘I just couldn’t stay in that marriage’

Melinda French Gates is opening up about her “unbelievably painful” divorce from Bill Gates.

“I had some reasons I just couldn’t stay in that marriage anymore,” French Gates, 58, told Fortune magazine. “But the odd thing about COVID is that it gave me the privacy to do what I needed to do.

“It’s unbelievably painful, in innumerable ways, but I had the privacy to get through it,” she continued.

Melinda and Bill, 66, married in 1994 and were together for 27 years before divorcing in May 2021. They have three children together — Jennifer, 25, Rory, 23, and Phoebe, 19 — who were always Melinda’s “main concern” during the separation.

The former couple also founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 and continue to run it together following their separation — which French Gates credits for helping her process her emotions.

Melinda Gates on ‘unbelievably painful’ divorce: ‘I just couldn’t stay in that marriage’
Bill and Melinda Gates divorced in May 2021.
Frederic Stevens/Getty Images
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Monday, May 3, 2021. Bill and Melinda Gates have made the decision to end their marriage, they said in a statement, tweeted by Bill Gates. They will continue to work together at the foundation, according to the statement.
The former couple founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000.
David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I kept working with the person I was moving away from, and I needed to show up and be my best self every single day,” the philanthropist said. “So even though I might be crying at 9 a.m. and then have to be on a video conference at 10 a.m. with the person I’m leaving, I have to show up and be my best.

“I learned as a leader that I could do it. It reminded me that the foundation calls me to be my best,” she added. 

French Gates shared that working with people dealing with hard times during the pandemic allowed her to do her best work during her own difficult time.

Melinda Gates speaks at the featured session, "Melinda Gates + Kelly Corrigan Talk Big Change" during SXSW Online on March 19, 2021
Melinda Gates said her children were her “main concern.”
SXSW/Getty Images

“We work with unbelievable partners around the world who were also struggling during COVID,” she said. “I was on a video call with a woman who had lost her father, and a week later she’s on a call with me, right?”

French Gates told Gayle King in an interview with “CBS Mornings” earlier this year that she shed “a lot of tears for many days” and was “grieving a loss” following the divorce. 

It was revealed in 2021 that Bill had a lengthy affair with a Microsoft employee in 2000 and that he reportedly asked out several women in the office while he was married, though it’s unclear how much French Gates knew about this behavior at the time.

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