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Bill Gates didn’t tip $5 because he’s ‘the son of a wood cutter’ - his parents are a lawyer and teacher

Did Microsoft founder and US billionaire Bill Gates tip a waiter only $5 because he’s the son of a wood cutter?

That’s the claim in a meme shared in South Africa, which shows a photo of Gates next to a photo of his daughter, Phoebe Adele Gates. (Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of Africa Check’s funders, providing 18% of our income in 2018.) 

It says Gates was eating in a restaurant and left a $5 tip. The waiter was confused, and said to him: “I’m just amazed because on the same table your daughter gave tip of $500 and you her father the richest man in the world only gave $5?”

Gates, the meme says, “smiled and replied with meaningful words: ‘She is the daughter of the world’s richest man, but I am the son of a wood cutter.’”

Grew up in upper middle class family

Gates’s biography on his blog Gates Notes reveals that neither of his parents were ever wood cutters.

“His dad, William H Gates II, is a Seattle attorney and one of the co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His late mother, Mary Gates, was a schoolteacher, University of Washington regent, and chairwoman of United Way International,” it reads.

And his childhood was in no way deprived. He grew up in an “upper middle class family” described on his blog as “amazing and supportive”.

Gates had an excellent education, according to one biography, attending Seattle's “exclusive preparatory” Lakeside School and later Harvard University.

His father William Gates Sr was an affluent lawyer and a founding partner at the law firm Preston Gates & Ellis. He served as president of both the Seattle/King County Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association.

Mary Gates, his mother, had a brief career as a teacher before devoting her time to raising her children and working on civic affairs and with charities, and serving on corporate boards.

‘An illustrative tale’

So where does the story come from? A 2012 fact-check by Snopes suggests it’s just “an illustrative tale into which someone has slipped the name of a person widely recognised as being vastly wealthy”.

And although it may not be known what kind of a tipper Bill Gates might be, Snopes says, “he could hardly be described as thrifty, having spent $63 million on building a 66,000-square foot house”.

It is also estimated that Gates and his wife Melinda have given away $28 billion via their charitable foundation – including $8 billion to improve global health. – Taryn Willows


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