MacKenzie Scott is giving away money faster than ever, says Belinda Luscombe in Time. Since she divorced Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – and gained 4% of the tech giant’s stock – she has donated $5.9bn in a matter of months, no strings attached. One day Leah Barrett, the president of a Nebraskan community college, got an email from an anonymous philanthropist. The next thing I knew, she told Luscombe, Scott had given me $15m. She wanted nothing in return.
Scott, 51, knows what it’s like to have nothing. A bookish child, she was six when she wrote her first novel, an autobiographical tale that got lost in a flood. She was top of her class at a competitive boarding school in Connecticut, but her father’s business went bust when she was 17, so she had to scrape her way into Princeton with financial aid. There she juggled 30-hour-a-week waitressing jobs and creative writing classes with Toni Morrison (who called her “one of the best students I’ve ever had”).
She met Bezos in 1992, while she was working at a bank. He sat in the next-door cubicle and had a booming laugh – she heard it and tracked down its owner. Within six months they were married. Scott was only 23 and Amazon was nothing but a pipe dream. Indeed, she is “the last woman Bezos can know for sure didn’t marry him for his money”. Even when business was booming, she never liked luxury, dropping her husband off at work in a Honda minivan and sometimes asking guests to bring their own food when she invited them for dinner. After the divorce she married again – her children’s science teacher – and went back to writing. The “whole billionaire thing”, after all, was “just an accident”.