Billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda French Gates have announced that they are divorcing after 27 years of marriage, saying they no longer believe "we can grow together as a couple", but will continue to work together at their foundation that has an endowment of about USD 50 billion.
In a joint statement posted on Twitter by both, they said: “After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage.”
They said that over the last 27 years they built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, and productive lives.
"We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives," the statement said.
The duo, two of the richest persons in the world, asked for "space and privacy" for their family "as we begin to navigate this new life.” The divorce announcement puts focus on the couple's sprawling Seattle-based organisation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which had reported total net assets of USD 43.3 billion at the end of 2019.
Bill, 65, co-founder of Microsoft, had met Melinda, 56 when she had joined the technology giant as a product manager. After dating for a few years, they got married in January 1994 in Hawaii. The couple has three children aged 18 to 25.
The foundation said in a statement that the two would remain co-chairs and trustees and no changes were expected at the organisation.
"They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation's issues and set the organisation's overall direction," the statement said.
Late last year, the Foundation had announced new commitments totalling USD 70 million to global efforts to develop and distribute safe, affordable, and timely vaccines for low-and middle-income countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bill, formerly the world's richest person, was named by Forbes as the fourth richest person in the world with a net worth of 124 billion dollars.
A report in The New York Times quoted Rob Reich, a professor of political science at Stanford University as saying that, "The Gates Foundation is the most important and influential philanthropic entity in the world today. The divorce may have huge repercussions for the foundation and for its work across the globe.”
The report said the Gates have faced relationship struggles over the past several years and there were times when their relationship neared collapse but they worked to keep it together.
"When he was having trouble making the decision about getting married, he was incredibly clear that it was not about me, it was about ‘Can I get the balance right between work and family life?'’ Melinda Gates had said in an interview to The Sunday Times of London in 2019.
"And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, 'Can I do this?'’ she had said.