Melinda French Gates is an American philanthropist, and a former general manager at Microsoft. French Gates has consistently been ranked as one of the world's most powerful women by Forbes.
In 2000, she and her husband Bill Gates co-founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest private charitable organization as of 2015. She and her husband have been awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honour.
Melinda Ann French was born on August 15, 1964, in Dallas, Texas. She is the second of four children born to Raymond Joseph French Jr., an aerospace engineer, and Elaine Agnes Amerland, a homemaker. She has an older sister and two younger brothers.
French, a Catholic, attended St. Monica Catholic School, where she was the top student in her class. At age 14, French was introduced to the Apple II by her father, and a school teacher named Mrs. Bauer who advocated teaching the students at the all-girls school computer science. It was from this experience she developed her interest in computer games and the BASIC programming language.
French graduated as valedictorian from Ursuline Academy of Dallas in 1982. She earned a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Duke University in 1986 and an MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business in 1987. At Duke, French was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, Beta Rho Chapter.
French Gates's first job was tutoring children in mathematics and computer programming. After graduation, she became a marketing manager with Microsoft, being responsible for the development of multimedia products. These included Cinemania, Encarta, Publisher, Microsoft Bob, Money, Works (Macintosh) and Word. She worked on Expedia, which became one of the most popular travel booking websites. In the early 1990s, French Gates was appointed as General Manager of Information Products, a position which she held until 1996. She left Microsoft that year, reportedly, to focus on starting a family.
French Gates served as a member of Duke University's Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2003. She attends the annual Bilderberg Group conference and has held a seat on the Board of Directors of Graham Holdings (formerly The Washington Post Company) since 2004. She was also on the board of directors at Drugstore.com but left in August 2006 to focus on philanthropic projects. Since 2000, French Gates has been active in the public eye, stating "As I thought about strong women of history, I realized that they stepped out in some way". This has helped her work become recognized while also shaping and delivering goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By 2014, Bill and Melinda had donated US$28 billion of their personal wealth to the Foundation. In 2015, French Gates founded Pivotal Ventures as a separate, independent organization to identify, help develop and implement innovative solutions to problems affecting U.S. women and families.
In 2019, French Gates debuted as an author with the book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. Former President Barack Obama starred in a comedy sketch in order to promote it. The book highlights the failure to acknowledge women's unpaid work, drawing on feminist economist Dame Marilyn Waring's book If Women Counted.
Melinda began dating Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in 1987, after meeting him at a trade fair in New York. In 1994, she married Gates in a private ceremony held in Lanai, Hawaii. They have three children: Jennifer, Phoebe and Rory Gates. The family resides in Xanadu 2.0, an earth-sheltered mansion overlooking Lake Washington in Medina, Washington. The family also owns an oceanfront residence in Del Mar, California.
In May 2021, French Gates and her husband announced in a joint statement on social media their decision to divorce, ending 27 years of marriage, and 34 years as a couple. According to the Wall Street Journal, French Gates had met with divorce lawyers in October 2019 after her husband's business dealings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein became public, and had warned her husband about associating with him since 2013. Although the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement, French Gates (who filed) did not request spousal support; her husband transferred over $2 billion worth of shares and stocks.