01/17/1994 at 01:00 AM EST
THE TINY HAWAIIAN RESORT OF LANAI IS KNOWN AS "THE PRIVATE island." a restricted paradise frequented by A-list celebrities such as Richard Gere—and on New Year's Day billionaire computer whiz Bill Gales made sure it stayed that way. The chairman of the software giant Microsoft Corp. deployed an army of private guards to patrol the grounds of the Manele Bay Hotel, where he was staying, to keep any intruders at bay. He also hired a helicopter to sweep the airspace clear of pesky photographers. All told, Gates spent more than $1 million. The reason? He and Microsoft coworker Melinda French were gelling married. "They really wanted a private, human wedding and they didn't want publicity," said attendee Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post. "They didn't want people with cameras and notebooks. I respect their wishes."
The nuptials took place at sunset before 130 invited guests at the 12th tee of the Challenge golf course on a cliff 150 feet above the crashing blue waters of the Pacific. French, 29, wore a $10,000, white, silk-faced organza wedding dress by Seattle designer Victoria Glenn, while Gates, 38, settled for a while dinner jacket and black trousers. Al the conclusion of the 15-minute Roman Catholic ceremony, Gates placed a ring on French's left hand. Then they kissed. By this time the sun had dipped below the horizon, giving the sky a golden glow.
The solemn event contrasted with a raucous luau held the night before on the beach, where Gates surprised his fiancée with a performance by Willie Nelson, her favorite singer, and followed the concert with a fireworks display. The guest list could have been mistaken for the FORTUNE 500 roster, with no fewer than four other billionaires in attendance, including best man Steve Ballmer, Gates's former Harvard pal who is second in command al Microsoft; company cofounder Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trailblazers basketball team; cellular phone magnate Craig McCaw; and investment guru Warren Buffett, whose net worth of $8 billion makes him the only man in America richer than the groom (who has only $17 billion).
The workaholic Gates met French, a Microsoft marketing executive who grew up in a middle-class Dallas suburb, at a company picnic in 1987. Gates reportedly decided to settle down after his mother, Mary, who is ill with cancer, asked, "Why don't you give Melinda a ring?" Friends say French plans to keep her job, which seems secure.
The newlyweds are rumored to be honeymooning on the Pacific islands of Belau (formerly Palau). Afterward, they will return home to Seattle, where Gates is building a $35 million, 42,000-square-foot partially underground estate on the shores of Lake Washington. He designed the house with bedrooms for three children and a nanny. Says Gales: "We're both extremely happy and looking forward to a long, wonderful life together."
DAVID ELLIS with bureau reports