Bill Gates, the co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, who is worth a reported $134.1 billion and announced his divorce from his wife Melinda after 27 years of marriage on Monday, reportedly had an agreement with his wife for years that he could spend one weekend a year with his former girlfriend, Ann Winblad, at the beach.
Gates, 65, and Ann Winblad, 70, dated in the 80s but broke up in 1987, the year he met Melinda. Winblad founded Open Systems Inc., an accounting software company that eventually sold for over $15 million six years later, then launched the nation’s first venture capital firm focused exclusively on software, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, which reportedly financed 80 software startups.
Winblad is currently married to San Francisco private investigator Edward Alex Kline, the younger brother of actor Kevin Kline.
TIME Magazine reported in 1997, “Gates has an arrangement with his wife that he and Winblad can keep one vacation tradition alive. Every spring, as they have for more than a decade, Gates spends a long weekend with Winblad at her beach cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they ride dune buggies, hang-glide and walk on the beach. ‘We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology,’ Gates says. Winblad puts it more grandly. ‘We share our thoughts about the world and ourselves,’ she says. ‘And we marvel about how, as two young overachievers, we began a great adventure on the fringes of a little-known industry and it landed us at the center of an amazing universe.’”
TIME reported that Gates and Winblad met in 1984 and “started going on ‘virtual dates’ by driving to the same movie at the same time in different cities and discussing it on their cell phones.” TIME added:
They were kindred minds as well as spirits. On a vacation to Brazil, he took James Watson’s 1,100-page textbook, Molecular Biology of the Gene, and they studied bioengineering together. On another vacation, to a Santa Barbara, California, ranch, she took tapes of Richard Feynman’s lectures at Cornell, and they studied physics.
And on a larger excursion with friends to central Africa, which ended at some beach cottages on an island off Zanzibar, among their companions was anthropologist Donald Johanson, known for his work on the human ancestor Lucy, who helped teach them about human evolution. In the evenings on each trip they would go to the beach with four or five other couples for bonfires, Hood Canal-style games and a tradition they called the sing-down, where each team is given a word and has to come up with songs that feature it.
TIME reported that despite the fact that they broke up in 1987, “partly because Winblad, five years older, was more ready for marriage,” they stayed close friends. Gates told TIME, “When I was off on my own thinking about marrying Melinda … I called Ann and asked for her approval.”
In 2013, Winblad told the Silicon Valley Business Journal that she and Gates met in 1984, recalling, “Bill and I went for a walk on a beach and Bill tells me, ‘I can see my way, if I really squint, to $500 million in revenue.’ In 1984 there was not yet a software company that had achieved $100 million in revenue. Bill was a great influence on me and I was thinking, wow, you can actually build a company that big in the software industry? Are you kidding me? I remember making him take a stick or a rock and drawing the numbers out on the sand for me. How was he going to get there?”
She continued, “He then said, ‘What troubles me is I can’t see how I am going to get past $500 million.’ I thought, ‘You’re troubled about that?’”
On Monday, Gates and his wife posted a statement reading:
After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage. Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue to work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.