In the first interview addressing her divorce, Melinda French Gates shared details of the unraveling of her 27-year marriage to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
“It wasn’t one moment or one specific thing that happened,” French Gates told interviewer Gayle King on CBS Mornings in a segment that aired Thursday.
Among the issues were an affair that Gates had in 2000 with a Microsoft employee, and his relationship with convicted child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
French Gates said that she made clear to her husband that she didn’t want him engaging with Epstein, whom she met only one time.
“I wanted to see who this man was, and I regretted it from the second I stepped in the door. He was abhorrent. He was evil personified,” she said. “I had nightmares about it afterwards.”
French Gates declined to answer King’s questions about the nature of the relationship between Gates and Epstein, and whether her ex-husband had multiple affairs. “Those are questions Bill needs to answer,” French Gates said.
Gates shared a statement with CBS News saying that meeting with Epstein was a mistake that he deeply regretted.
The couple announced their divorce on May 3 and the split was finalized in August. The two raised three children together and more than 20 years ago they jointly created the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charitable foundation and a powerhouse in global health.
Here are some more highlights from the CBS Mornings interview, which took place at French Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, an organization based in Redmond, Wash., that’s promoting initiatives that empower women and families.:
Divorce was not part of the plan for French Gates, who has written about her strong Catholic beliefs. “I want to say that on the day I got married, I never thought I would end up being divorced,” she said. “Unfortunately, I felt like I needed to take a different path.”
King asked French Gates if she felt any blame for the divorce. The answer was a hard “no.”
“I gave every single piece of myself to this marriage,” she said. “I was committed to this marriage on the day we got engaged and until the day I got out of it, so no. But I also think society used to put things on women, like it was our fault. No, I did nothing wrong. So I hold my head high.”
Friendly, but not friends
In July, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a two-year trial period to see how effectively French Gates and Gates can work together. If the arrangement proves untenable, French Gates will resign as co-chair and trustee, and receive personal resources from Gates to continue her philanthropic work.
King asked French Gates about her relationship with her ex.
“We certainly have a working relationship,” she said. “I would say we’re friendly at this point… ‘Friends’ is a different word for me and that might come over time. But for me, there’s still healing that needs to happen. Certainly I wish him well. I don’t wish him harm and I think we have a productive working relationship and I think that will continue.”
Return to Africa
King called out French Gates’ commitment to giving away much of her wealth, and her passion for engaging with recipients of her philanthropy, versus just writing checks.
“There’s lots of ways to do philanthropy and that’s great,” she said. “But I need to see it and feel it. I cannot wait till this summer where I feel like I can probably go back to several African countries and COVID will hopefully be enough behind us that it won’t be disruptive.
“I want to be out talking to people. I want to see the work because it’s in seeing and listening, we have to listen to people. They have their own solutions in their community. And if we listen, sometimes it’s just a matter of saying, ‘Oh my gosh. OK, they’ve got the way to keep the water clean. Let’s just fund what they know will work.’”
Swipe right for French Gates?
French Gates said the divorce has been a difficult time of grieving, anger and many tears shed curled up on the floor.
But now, she said, she is ready to move on. King asked if dating and falling in love are in the realm of possibilities.
“Definitely,” French Gates answered. “Yeah, I hope that happens for me again. You know, I’m dipping my toe in that water a little bit.”
And what’s the water like? “Interesting,” said French Gates with a smile.