Bill and Melinda Gates announced via Twitter on Monday that they plan to call their marriage, which spanned over almost three decades, quits. The news is making waves in both the philanthropy world, where the pair has shaped the field as co-founders of the multi-billion dollar Gates Foundation, as well as business and tech circles, where the former couple’s romance first began.
It’s well known that Bill Gates co-founded the Microsoft Corporation in 1975 with childhood friend Paul Allen. It’s not as well known that Melinda Gates, then Melinda French, was a general manager at Microsoft when the pair met and began dating in 1987.
Their origin story goes like this: After flirting a bit in the parking lot at work, Bill asked Melinda out for a date two weeks in advance. Melinda wasn’t impressed by his lack of spontaneity, so she turned the soon-to-be richest man in the world down. Later, he called her and tried for a date that same night. They both loved puzzles. She beat him in a math game.
They married in Hawaii in 1994. Since then, the two have shared three children, a software empire worth billions, and control of one of the most wealthy and influential philanthropic foundations in the world.
In her 2019 book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, Melinda Gates describes how she and Bill Gates struggled with power dynamics as they began to co-run their wildly influential and well-funded charitable foundation.
The Gates Foundation has released an annual letter every year since 2009. First, Bill penned the letter autonomously, although he and his wife were co-founders at the helm of their foundation. When, in 2013, Melinda wanted to co-write the letter, as she was the co-chair of their organization, she describes encountering friction.
“We both got angry…I thought we were going to kill each other. I felt, ‘Well, this just might end the marriage right here,'” she recounts in her book. The marriage lasted another eight years, but Bill’s sole control of the annual letters did not, and eventually became joint letters from the foundation’s co-chairs.
Bill Gates has a net worth of about $124 billion as of 2021, according to Forbes. Plus, the family has a mansion in Washington State valued at about $127 million, and an oceanfront home in Southern California worth about $43 million.
The statement the Gateses tweeted on Monday says they will “continue [their] work together at the foundation,” but does not address how the former couple’s financial holdings might be reallocated by the split. It’s a question that takes on a larger meaning for the public since the family has a history of donating large amounts of their personal fortune through their foundation.
Newsweek reached out to the Gates Foundation for comment. This story will be updated with any response.