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When writing a biography about the wife of one of the richest men in the world, the question to be asked is how did such a union take place? Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation is no ordinary man, and so to be the wife of Bill Gates for 23 years and counting requires a special woman.
Born on August 15, 1964 as the daughter of Ray and Elaine French, Melinda Ann French would be the younger of two daughters and the bigger sister of two younger brothers. Though her mother stressed the importance of getting a college education, it was unlikely that she saw herself being married to her future boss at Microsoft. She did get a college degree, graduating from Duke University in 1986 with a degree in computer science. This was not by accident, as Melinda had an interest in computers and math when she attended the Ursuline Academy for girls as a teenager. She obtained a Master's Degree in Business Administration from the same university, with a concentration in economics.
She began working at Microsoft in 1987 as a product manager, and her ascension to General Manager of Information Products would include the development of Expedia, Cinemania and Encarta. Her first encounter with her future husband was at a Manhattan trade show, where she recalled his sense of humor as one point of attraction. They dated for six years, marrying on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Two years later their first child, Jennifer Katharine, was born. In later years, there would be two more additions to the Gates clan, Rory John and Phoebe Adele.
Though her education and business experience were clearly technically oriented, their joint success and accompanying wealth resulted in the creation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Naturally, the original purpose of the foundation was technically oriented - to put Microsoft technology in libraries across the United States. But as time passed, Melinda had an integral part to diversifying the purpose of the foundation. Technology would still be a part of the purpose, but it would expand to include global improvements in education to all countries. Following that would be the inclusion of global poverty and health issues, especially the treatment of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
But with her success, she did not forget her alma mater. She would be a generous donor to Duke University, where she would build The French Family Science Center, create the University Scholars Program and the Duke Engage Program. She also devoted her time, serving as a Duke trustee from 1996 to 2004.
With a net worth of $70 billion, the issue of Melinda’s “responsible parenting” philosophy is worth mentioning. Her and Bill have decided to leave 5 percent (or less) of that vast fortune to their children. The other 95 percent is committed to the Foundation. Melinda is currently focused on the issue of women in technology and the impact AI (artificial intelligence) will have for women of future generations. She has achieved a great deal of success in her own right, and continues to share that success with other women.
(By Biopage writers. Photo credit Miles Aldridge and Gates Foundation. Please contact Biopage for inaccuracy.)
Leadership takes many forms. Here’s one: A group of women sit on the ground in a circle. Most of them make less than $2 a day. They talk about their families, their fledgling enterprises, their dreams of better lives for their children. In their midst is Melinda Gates, listening. You might think, Everyone listens. In fact, women like this are rarely heard, and few listen like Melinda. She listens with her complete attention and total empathy. Then she figures out how to use what she’s learned to make the world a more equitable place. Her vision for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped lift the lives of millions of people. Its work reflects her impatient optimism. Her ability to think big and move fast. Her love of numbers. (Bill’s not the only data geek in the family.) Her passionate commitment to empowering women and girls, seen in the foundation’s support for increasing access to contraceptives in developing countries. Her fundamental belief in human dignity. It’s all there, woven tightly into the DNA of one of the most ambitious and generous philanthropies in history. And with the launch of her new organization, Pivotal Ventures, Melinda has yet another avenue to effect meaningful change. Her impact will be felt for generations to come. (By Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, founder of LeanIn.org and author of Option B. Photo credit Miles Aldridge for Time)