I remember seeing the movie The First Wives Club back in the late 90s and laughing at the uproarious antics of the jilted “first wives”  It starred the fabulous Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn.

The plot was a simple one: what happens to wealthy women when their respective husbands leave them for younger women.

Thankfully, so much has changed since that movie first debuted in  1996.  Women are hardly at the whims of their men but and I think we’ve moved from millionaire’s club to a billionaire’s wives club.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in that exclusive group.  How I would live my life with all that wealth?

Truth be told, a NetJets membership would be high on my list!  I doubt that will happen any time soon but I couldn’t help but wonder who would be included in this exclusive membership of wealthy women.  Today’s article profiles a few of the richest wives – who they are and how they spend their time.

Let’s start with Bill Gates’, the second richest billionaire in the world. Melinda French met her future husband when she started work as a product manager at Microsoft.  Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Apparently, Bill asked Melinda out on a date that was two weeks in advance but Melinda told him she didn’t know what she was doing that far ahead.  She said he’d definitely need to be more spontaneous for her liking.

An hour later, her phone rang with Bill at the other end asking her if “this was spontaneous enough for her?”   After a seven-year courtship, they married in 1994.  But shortly before their marriage, Bill publicly announced that he planned to give the majority of his wealth away before his demise.  I wonder if she had anything to do with that?

Melinda grew up volunteering and reportedly steered Bill towards the creation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  On their wedding eve, Bill’s mother read a letter to the couple saying “from those who are given great resources, great things are expected.”   Sounds like she inspired them to share their wealth.

The Gates Foundation has helped provide clean water, healthcare programs, and educational resources. Nearly 60% of the foundation’s resources are dedicated to worldwide health programs, especially in developing countries that need help with the prevention of infectious diseases and reproductive and child health.  Their funds have also been used to help with HIV/AIDS, malaria, vaccine production and research.

The Gates Library Foundation is another nonprofit created by the couple to provide computers, internet access and other research tools not easily available to kids in need.  Together, Melinda and Bill are a passionate and noble team, and I’d say Melinda will remain a first wife well into the future.

Our second first wife is a Harvard graduate who was standing in line for the bathroom at a party when the young man next to her, Mark Zuckerberg, asked her out on a date.  Priscilla Chan is now married to the Facebook founder and has a thriving job as a pediatrician and mother of two.

She and Mark started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in 2015.  Chan is the de facto CEO of CZI and manages the day to day operations of this ambitious philanthropic investment company.

Its main goal is to utilize technology to help solve the world’s most difficult challenges, including disease prevention, education, and criminal justice reform.  Three core initiative focus on science, education, justice, and opportunity.  Each of these is paired with engineering and grantmaking to create impact investing and policy and advocacy initiatives that will help accelerate social progress across these areas.

To date, the couple is committed to donating 99% of Zuckerberg’s Facebook earnings over the course of their lifetime.

In real dollars, that’s about $63 billion.  It surpasses the top ten combined U.S. private and community philanthropies.

One of their goals is to cure all diseases in their daughters lifetimes.  This is ambitious but Chan has been passionate about mapping every cell in the human body.  She has pledged $50 million to fund this research; funds which the power couple truly has to build a better future for all.

The third member of our billionaires club is Laurene Powell Jobs.  She is the widow of Steve Job, the founder of Apple.  Apple was recently named the top 20 richest companies on the Forbes 400 List and boasts $20.5 billion net worth.   Laurene is the third wealthiest woman in the U.S. and fifth wealthiest in the world.

She began her career at Goldman Sachs as a trading strategist and later earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business.  She met Steve Jobs at a lecture, striking up a conversation with the man seated next to her.   When Steve stood up and walked onto the stage to give the lecture, she was shocked.  After he was finished, Steve skipped a business meeting to chase her down in the parking lot and ask her to dinner.  One thing led to another.

Powell Jobs is the founder of Emerson Collective, a group that advocates for social justice, environmental conservation, immigration reform and education policies. Emerson Collective acquired a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine; which Powell admires for its social responsibility.

As a philanthropist and activist, education reform is of special interest to Powell who launched a $50 million project called  XQ: The Super School Project.  The aim is to rethink and recreate future high schools. A lifelong athlete and sports fan, Powell also holds a 20% interest in Monumental Sports & Entertainment.  They own the Washington Wizards, the Washington Capitals,  WNMA Mystics and Capital One Arena.  I really like this first wife’s collection.

Powell Jobs said this about money: “My relationship with money is that it’s a tool to be self-sufficient, but it’s not something that is a part of who I am.”  It’s an apropos quote for all of these remarkable women and their dedication to using their wealth to better our world.

Denise Benson

Author Denise Benson

Denise Benson is a photographer, creative writer and traveler. Discovering new ideas, people, places and cultures is a lifelong passion, which Denise enjoys sharing with her readers using her unique perspective as a photographic storyteller. An avid sailor, she and her husband Brian have sailed 10,000 blue water miles exploring the South Pacific. Along with sailing, she enjoys travel, food & wine, books and nature related activities, including napping on the fore-deck of her boat, Moonstone.

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