Melinda Gates Opened Up About 'Trying to Find My Voice' Before Split with Bill
Melinda Gates filed for divorce from husband Bill last week after 27 years of marriage
When Bill and Melinda Gates launched their foundation in 2000, Melinda was happy to work behind the scenes, letting her husband take the reins on public appearances and speeches as a way of guarding her privacy — a topic explored in her 2019 book The Moment of Lift.
But as the years went by, and Melinda, 56, was thrust into a more public role, she had to work to find her place beside the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Melinda wrote in the book, as noted by The New York Times.
"I've been trying to find my voice as I've been speaking next to Bill and that can make it hard to be heard," she wrote.
Melinda's voice was heard around the world last week, when she filed for divorce from Bill, 65, after 27 years of marriage, writing in court documents obtained by PEOPLE that their union was "irretrievably broken."
The split came months after the couple had hunkered down in their mega-mansion on Lake Washington to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home alongside their youngest child, daughter Phoebe, as she finished her senior year of high school remotely, the Times reported.
"Working from home — that was a piece that I think we hadn't really individually prepared for quite as much," she told the newspaper in October.
While a source recently told PEOPLE that "a combo of things" led to the longtime couple's split — and that timing played a part, as Phoebe is now an adult — another passage from Melinda's book indicates trouble in paradise as early as 2012, when Melinda felt that she was taking a backseat to her husband's success.
As noted by the Times, Melinda wrote in her book that that year, she asked to join her husband in writing the annual letter for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — but was apparently met with resistance.
"I thought we were going to kill each other," she wrote. "I felt, 'Well, this just might end the marriage right here.'"
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The next year, Bill was still the sole writer of the letter, but Melinda penned a short piece on contraceptives that accompanied it.
"I told him that there are some issues where my voice can make an impact, and in those cases, I should be speaking — separately or along with him," she wrote. "It got hot. We both got angry. It was a big test for us — not about how you come to agreement but about what you do when you can't agree. And we took a long time to agree."
Gary Darmstadt, a medical doctor who teaches at Stanford and who worked with Melinda at the foundation, told the Times there was a distinct change in Melinda's visibility at the foundation after Warren Buffet donated $31 billion in 2006.
"She started to speak out as she started to observe some things the foundation wasn't focused on that she thought were really important, around social and cultural elements, the importance of behavior change, the importance of systems, the importance of an integrated approach," Darmstadt said. "She realized 'OK, I'm going to have to step into a global leadership position on this issue because no one else is really doing it, and I've been equipped.. I think it became clear to her that she had to use her voice on behalf of women."
Melinda went on to launch Pivotal Ventures on her own in 2015, something she told the Times she hopes will provide women and minorities the tools they need to tend to social issues.
"I thought, 'I want to have a company that has all the tools to work on social issues for women and minorities, even in addition to our education work that we were already doing in the foundation," she told the Times in October. "What I'm doing with Pivotal Ventures is gathering many other people around me to have these cohorts who work on these issues, and then also fund them at scale. We don't fund things for women at scale. And we should."
She celebrated strong women in a sweet Mother's Day post on Sunday that featured a throwback photo of her smiling with her and Bill's children, daughters Jennifer, 25, and Phoebe, 18, and son Rory, 21.
"I love being their mother. Whatever Mother's Day means to you—a day to celebrate a mom, honor a memory, or reflect on your own resilience—I hope your day is a meaningful one," she captioned the social media post.
Jennifer also celebrated her mother's strength in a post of her own, which she captioned: "Our queen, hero and mom- every day," alongside a photo of her with Melinda and her two siblings.
Bill and Melinda Gates announced their split last Monday with a joint statement on social media that said they "no longer believe we can grow together as a couple."
They did, however, note that they would remain a united front when it came to working together on their foundation.
"They were really interested in trying to win a Nobel Prize," a source previously told PEOPLE. "So one thing that was part of this is, if it gets worse, then it ends that. It seems as if that was on the agenda, and that's for both of them."
Melinda's court documents said she was not requesting spousal support or child support — only that the court enforce the couple's separation contract, something the source said was likely part of a plan to keep things as civil and private as possible between the exes.