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Philanthropy  
January 7 2008: 3:37 AM EST
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Melinda Gates goes public (pg. 4)

By Patricia Sellers, editor at large

Melinda appreciates Bono's description. But does she like the house? "Now I like it," she says, smiling. "I still wouldn't build it. But I like it."

The Gates children are reaching the age where they want to understand their parents' passions. In 2006, Melinda and Bill took the two oldest children to South Africa, showing them slums and an orphanage in Cape Town. But the value of their work is often difficult to translate. A few years ago when they showed a documentary about polio, the kids asked about a crippled boy featured in the film: "Did you help that kid? Do you know the name of that kid? Well, why not?" On and on. "We don't know that boy," Melinda told the children, "but we're trying to help lots of kids like him." Bill's explanation: "I'm in wholesale. I'm not in retail!"

As Bill says about their children, "They know the money is overwhelming." And of course the kids have asked whether their parents will provide for them as generously as they do for those poor people who receive their billions. "We say, 'You'll be fine. You'll still be very well-off,'" Bill says. While he and Melinda plan to give away 95% of their wealth in their lifetimes, they have not yet decided how much of what's left will go to the children. Melinda says they will follow Warren Buffett's philosophy: "A very rich person should leave his kids enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing."

***

"My fatal flaw?" Melinda says, laughing, during our third and final interview. She sometimes wishes for a simpler life, she admits. "It depends when you catch me. Most days, no. But if you'd asked me yesterday if I would like a much simpler life, I would have told you yes." Yesterday was that night before the Malaria Forum, when she went to bed feeling unprepared. This morning, as she sat onstage and scrutinized the audience of renowned doctors and health experts, she says, "I was telling myself, 'I know that person ... I know his work ... I know her work.'" She was giving herself a pep talk. "I told myself, 'But I do know enough.'" She completed her goal for the day: calling for the eradication of one of the worst diseases the world has ever known. Tomorrow, another goal. Maybe it will be even bigger.  To top of page

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