In a candid interview with TIME magazine published on Tuesday, June 18, Melinda French Gates shared intimate details about her high-profile divorce from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, revealing that the couple had secretly separated before their official announcement in May 2021. The 59-year-old philanthropist explained that the COVID-19 pandemic provided them with the privacy needed to navigate the end of their 27-year marriage.

"It gave us the privacy to do what needed to be done in private," Melinda told TIME. "You know, I separated first before I made the full decision about a divorce. And to be able to do that in private while I'm still trying to take care of the kids, while still making certain decisions about how you're going to disentangle your life-thank God."

The couple, who share three children together, had been living separately since the beginning of the pandemic, taking turns staying at the family home. Despite the "hard" and "painful" nature of their divorce, Melinda expressed gratitude for the privacy they were afforded during this challenging time.

Now, as she approaches her 60th birthday in August, Melinda is embracing her new life and the opportunities that come with it. She recently moved into a new neighborhood, where she enjoys the simple pleasures of walking to nearby stores and restaurants. "I live in a neighborhood. Now I can walk to little stores. I can walk to the drugstore, I can walk to a restaurant," she shared. "I absolutely love it."

Looking ahead, Melinda is excited about the future and the chance to continue learning and growing. "I feel like, 'Wow, I'm 60. I better surround myself with people and still travel [so that] I'm still absolutely learning, because the world is moving, the world is changing,'" she explained. "I'm totally unencumbered to work in any way I want."

In May, Melinda announced her departure from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an organization she co-founded with her ex-husband in 2000. While the decision was not easy, she assured that she remains committed to philanthropic endeavors. "This is a critical moment for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world-and those fighting to protect and advance equality are in urgent need of support," she said at the time.

Speaking with TIME about her decision to leave the foundation, Melinda, who started investment firm Pivotal Ventures in 2015, said she "was just ready to be able to have full decisionmaking control about where all the funds go." She added, "What I'm trying to do is make sure that women can step into their full power, that women see their power. It's not something we give them. We have it. We're born with it."

On her final day with the foundation on June 7, Melinda acknowledged the "complicated mix of emotions" she felt, saying, "I'm sad to be saying goodbye, proud of all we accomplished, energized by what's ahead, and excited to see what you do next. But the emotion I feel most strongly right now is gratitude."

Since announcing her departure, Melinda has pledged $1 billion to support women's rights in the United States, demonstrating her ongoing commitment to empowering women and advancing equality.