Melinda French Gates said her divorce from Bill Gates was 'unbelievably painful,' but COVID gave her 'the privacy to get through it'

Melinda French Gates said her divorce from Bill Gates was 'unbelievably painful,' but COVID gave her 'the privacy to get through it'
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates.Denis Balibouse/Reuters
  • Melinda French Gates said her divorce from Bill Gates was "unbelievably painful in innumerable ways."
  • Gates said the pandemic gave her privacy so she could leave her marriage and get through the divorce.

After almost three decades of marriage, Bill and Melinda French Gates announced their divorce in May 2021 — a situation French Gates told Fortune was"unbelievably painful in innumerable ways."

In her interview with the magazine published October 3, French Gates spoke about the divorce, and how she continues to work with her ex-husband as co-chairs of the philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"I kept working with the person I was moving away from, and I need to show up and be my best self every single day," Gates said about working with the Microsoft co-founder.

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French Gates told the magazine she would cry some mornings before she had virtual meetings with her ex-husband and their colleagues at the foundation, but added that the foundation "calls me to be my best."

She said she had her reasons for why she "couldn't stay in" her marriage with Gates, and that she doesn't "really think about it," because "I know who I am, and I know what I stand for."


While the couple got divorced during the pandemic, French Gates said COVID "gave me the privacy to do what I needed to do," adding that the privacy also helped her get through the divorce.

During the divorce, French Gates said protecting her children was her main concern. The Gates' have three children who will each inherit $10 million.

In an interview with CBS Morning in March, French Gates said there was nothing specific that lead to the divorce, just that she eventually "realized it just wasn't healthy and I couldn't trust what we had."

At the same time the Gates' divorce became public, Bill was tied to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and reports came out that he pursued sexual relationships with employees while he was Microsoft CEO, including having an affair with an engineer at the company.

In her Fortune interview, French Gates also talked about another famous ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, who was married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Both women have donated large parts of their fortunes to nonprofits. However, French Gates made the distinction between the two women, saying Scott is "doing a more faith-based philanthropy," while her organization is more technical.


Now, French Gates is focused on her organization, Pivotal Ventures, which aims to improve women's lives throughout the US.

She told Fortune her organization is "about how we can get women and people of color further along in the United States, faster," in industries like tech, finance, media, and politics.