The richest man in the world, Bill Gates, and his wife, Melinda, were named Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” along with Irish rocker Bono for being “Good Samaritans” who made a difference in different ways.

“For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are Time’s Persons of the Year,” the magazine said in its Dec. 19 issue, made public on Sunday.

Managing Editor James Kelly said the three had been chosen as the people most effective at finding ways to eradicate such calamities as malaria in Africa, HIV and AIDS and the grinding poverty that kills 8 million people a year.

Time also named former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton as “Partners of the Year” for their humanitarian efforts after the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, and the unlikely friendship that developed from that work.

“Natural disasters are terrible things, but what defines us is not what happens to us, but how we react to it,” Kelly said.

“When you look at the number of people who die from the kind of diseases and poverty that the Gates’ and Bono are fighting, the death tolls are far greater than what occurs in natural disasters or wars,” he told Reuters.

The founder of computer giant Microsoft Corp., whose personal fortune of $46.5 billion topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest again this year, and his wife were named for their work in the Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest charity with a $29 billion endowment, while Bono was described as the “rocker who has made debt reduction sexy.”

The rocker and the geek
“The rocker’s job is to be raucous, grab our attention. The engineer’s job is to make things work,” Time said, describing the unlikely alliance that developed after the three met for dinner in 2002. They were reunited on Friday in Omaha, where Bono was performing with U2, to be photographed for the cover.

The Gates Foundation funds hundreds of projects around the world primarily focused on public health, from vaccinating children to developing new drugs, as well as educational programs and scholarships in the United States and abroad.

Bono and fellow musician Bob Geldof spearheaded a popular campaign to tackle poverty in Africa through canceling the debts of the poorest countries in the world, raising global awareness through the Live 8 concerts in July.

Partly due to popular pressure, the world’s industrialized nations agreed in July to double aid to poor countries by 2010, adding $50 billion a year, and to cancel poor countries’ debt.

“Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world’s richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest,” Time said.

Kelly said he expected the choice to surprise some people, but the unlikely alliance of the richest man in the world and a “hell-raiser” like Bono was an inspiring example of how different approaches could be effective.