A JAN 9, 1994, file photo shows computer mogul Bill Gates and bride, Melinda French, greeting guests in a reception line at a private estate in Seattle.—AP
A JAN 9, 1994, file photo shows computer mogul Bill Gates and bride, Melinda French, greeting guests in a reception line at a private estate in Seattle.—AP

FROM muddy streets in South Africa’s townships to cocktail parties at Davos — Bill and Melinda Gates came as a pair.

Together, they built a charitable empire through Bill’s technology company Microsoft and the massive non-profit they co-founded and co-chair, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

And when it came time to announce on Monday the end of their 27-year marriage, they did that as a pair too in a joint statement posted to their respective Twitter accounts at exactly the same moment.

Gates, 65, summed it up like this in a 2019 Netflix documentary series: “In the case of Melinda, it is truly an equal partner.” She’s a lot like me in that she is optimistic and she is interested in science. She is better with people than I am. She’s a tiny bit less hard core about knowing, you know, immunology, than I am.”

Not ‘spontaneous enough’

Born on Oct 28, 1955, William H. Gates grew up in Seattle, Washington, and fell in love with machines and computer programming as a geeky-looking 13-year-old. He left Harvard University after two years to start “Micro-soft”, a software company, with a childhood friend.

On the other side of the country, Melinda Gates was born Melinda French on Aug 15, 1964, in Dallas, Texas. The first computer she ever used was an Apple II, and she developed an interest in computer games and programming at school.

The couple met in 1987, shortly after Melinda started working at Microsoft as a product manager, her first job after graduating from Duke University.

The pair ended up sitting next to each other at a business dinner and hit it off. Melinda, now 56, described her future husband in the Netflix documentary as “funny and very high-energy”.

But Bill didn’t ask her out until a few months later, when they bumped into each other in the Microsoft parking lot. He asked her on a date -- in two weeks.

Melinda teased him for not being “spontaneous enough” and told him to call her closer to the date. A few hours later, he called her at home and asked her out for that night. They married in 1994 and had three children.

Before he popped the question, Melinda says she caught Bill weighing the decision by writing out the pros and cons of marriage on a white board.

The couple would go on to revolutionise the technology world: Bill through Microsoft software, Melinda through helping carve out space for women in the male-dominated industry.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2021

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