Gates Foundation Addresses Future Post-Bill & Melinda Divorce as Warren Buffett Resigns from Board
Warren Buffett gave the foundation a $3.2 billion gift on the same day he announced his departure, according to Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman
Buffett announced his departure in a statement that prompted a response from Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, who said he has been involved in "active" discussions with Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates as to how best "provide long-term stability and sustainability for the foundation's governance and decision-making" following the couple's divorce announcement last month.
Buffett, the 90-year-old chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, has served as a trustee of the Gates Foundation for the past 15 years, though he said he'd been "inactive…for years."
"I am now resigning from that post, just as I have done at all corporate boards other than Berkshire's," he wrote. "The CEO of BMG is Mark Suzman, an outstanding recent selection who has my full support. My goals are 100% in sync with those of the foundation, and my physical participation is in no way needed to achieve these goals."
Buffett — who has an estimated fortune of $104.4 billion, according to Forbes — also announced that he will be distributing $4.1 billion among the five different foundations to which he previously pledged to give all of his Berkshire Hathaway shares.
Suzman said in an email to Gates Foundation employees that his organization would receive a $3.2 billion gift from Buffett on Wednesday, bringing Buffett's total donated sum to nearly $33 billion.
"Today is a milestone for me," Buffett said in his statement. "In 2006, I pledged to distribute all of my Berkshire Hathaway shares — more than 99% of my net worth — to philanthropy. With today's $4.1 billion distribution, I'm halfway there."
RELATED VIDEO: Bill Gates Stepped Down from Microsoft Board After Investigation of Affair with Employee: Report
In individual statements, both Bill, 65, and Melinda, 56, praised Buffett for his generosity, and Bill recalled being rendered "speechless" by Buffett's first gift to the foundation over a decade ago, which was Berkshire stock worth about $31 billion, according to The New York Times.
"It was the biggest single gift anyone had ever given anybody for anything. We were humbled by the trust he placed in us, and determined to work every day to ensure his resources helped improve life for as many people as possible," Gates wrote. "We will always have a deep sense of accountability to Warren, paying close attention to the data to track our progress and identify areas where we can do better. But the value of Warren's gift goes beyond anything that can be measured. I am truly grateful for his wisdom and leadership, and most of all for his enduring friendship. Warren will continue to inspire our foundation as we work to fight poverty and help millions of people live healthier lives."
Melinda, meanwhile, said she was grateful for Buffett's "generosity, his leadership, and his friendship."
"What made Warren's extraordinary investment in the foundation so meaningful was not only its amount but what it represented: an unwavering belief that everyone deserves to live a healthy, fulfilling life and an optimism that a world like that is possible," she wrote. "His wisdom has been a guiding light through our foundation's second decade, and the things we've learned from him will continue to help us chart a way forward."
Though Bill and Melinda announced their divorce in May after 27 years of marriage, the couple said they would continue to work together at the foundation — and Suzman said that come July, he would have more information to share with employees about the organization's future.
Buffett did not offer a reason for his departure from the foundation, but said he felt as though "society has a use for my money; I don't."
He noted that he has "relatively little" income, as most of his wealth comes from his Berkshire holdings, but that those other assets allow him to live "as I wish."
"My needs are simple; what made me happy at 40 makes me happy at 90," he wrote.
Buffett's announcement comes amid turmoil for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the wake of the Gateses divorce on May 3.
Following their split, Bill Gates was reported by The New York Times to have "developed a reputation for questionable conduct" in workplace settings, and to have made advances on colleagues — behavior he denied. His associations with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein were also widely reported.
"It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances and the timeline of Bill Gates's divorce," a spokesperson for Bill told PEOPLE in a statement last month. "[The New York Times's] characterization of his meetings with Epstein and others about philanthropy is inaccurate, including who participated. Similarly, any claim that Gates spoke of his marriage or Melinda in a disparaging manner is false. The claim of mistreatment of employees is also false. The rumors and speculation surrounding Gates's divorce are becoming increasingly absurd, and it's unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge of the situation are being characterized as 'sources.'"