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Doris Buffett Gives It All Away

By Alison Lee Satake, posted Aug 5, 2010
Warren and Doris Buffett

As billionaire business guru Warren Buffett garnered pledges this week from the country’s wealthiest business people to donate half of their riches to charity, Buffett’s sister will return to the Port City next week to speak about her own gift of giving.

“Because I come from the family I come from, I think of it as I’m making an investment and expect a good return. My return is that they will have a better life,” Doris Buffett said.

She lived in Wilmington in the late 1990’s and first put some of the millions of Berkshire Hathaway stock she inherited towards founding a non-profit scholarship program for domestic violence survivors here. Every two years she returns to the Port City for an awards ceremony for the national Women’s Independence Scholarship Program, Inc. (WISP), she said.

Buffett will also speak on Friday, Aug. 13 at the St. James Church in downtown Wilmington at the Cape Fear Literacy Council luncheon. She will autograph her recently completed biography “Giving it All Away,” which she said she pursued at the urging of her brother and the lead singer of U2, Bono. The book is based on her genealogical research and was written for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she said.

Growing up during the Great Depression made a lasting impression on her. She still remembers one of her classmates named Charles who was gaunt from lack of food. “You couldn’t be a bright and inquisitive little girl and not be aware of this,” she said.

“Although we didn’t suffer, it made a huge impression. I’ve always been altruistic.”

Since 1996 when she inherited millions from a family trust, she has dedicated her life to charity. “I’m really giving away my money.

I’m not talking about what’s going to happen when I die, that’s a crock,” she said. So far, she has given away about $100 million of her own money. Through establishing the Sunshine Lady Foundation, she has funded college programs for federal prison inmates from Sing Sing to San Quentin in order to lower recidivism rates.

“There will be problems in the future. There will be millionaires in the future. But I see plenty of opportunities to give now. My father would be proud of [Warren and me],” she said.

When her younger brother Warren began to give to the Gates Foundation about five years ago, letters from individuals seeking help began to pour in. Warren called his big sister for help. He sent her a box of about 1,400 letters, she said. And against the advisement of her board of directors, she set up a letter response team of mostly housewives who investigate and respond to each letter. Each request is thoroughly screened before help is given. “I’m a very pragmatic, Midwestern person. There’s nothing in the Buffett family DNA that wastes money,” she said. In addition to giving about $6.5 million of Warren’s money to these individual cases, they have also helped them access lawyers, the Mayo Clinic and court records.

About her brother and the Gates’ recent crusade to shift the thinking among the wealthiest people towards giving more, she said with a laugh, “He’s following in my footsteps.”

To hear Buffett speak at the Cape Fear Literacy Council luncheon, reserve tickets by Monday, Aug. 9 at 5 p.m. at www.cfliteracy.org or by calling 251-0911. Tickets for the event are $50 per person for lunch and the book. Tickets for the luncheon only are $30. Proceeds from the event will support the work of the Cape Fear Literacy Council.

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