Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story
At 82 years young, Doris, big sister of billionaire Warren, is on a mission.
When she inherited millions in Berkshire Hathaway stock from a family trust in 1996, instead of clinging to it like a security
blanket, she dedicated the rest of her life to giving it away—all of it—mostly to individuals in trouble through
no fault of their own. So far she’s given away $100 million of her own money. She says she wants to give it all away;
that she wants the last check she writes to bounce due to “insufficient funds.”
She began the Sunshine
Lady Foundation, helping battered women, sick children, and at-risk kids who otherwise would never have had the chance to
go to college. She’s also funding college programs for prison inmates, lowering recidivism. And she does it through
“retail philanthropy,” often making personal phone calls to those who need help, one by one.
written with her full cooperation, begins with her growing up as the primary target of an abusive mother’s rage, goes
on to talk about her having to watch every penny to take care of her family as a young wife and mother, and how, years after
becoming one of the first investors in an early Warren partnership and making a fortune, she found herself $2 million in debt
and almost lost her home in the 1987 stock market crash. It’s a life of many trials from which she has only gained greater
strength and more magnanimity, a life in which she’s been estranged from her three children and endured four horrific
marriages and divorces.
So much bad luck and pain would harden most hearts, and Doris has suffered through bouts
of depression. Yet, she has kept her heart open, focusing on the needs of others.
While the Buffett name has not meant
a life of ease for Doris, it has created a sense, not only of responsibility, but of urgency to help others, and to get involved
in a very personal way. She’s been knocked down repeatedly, only to get up, brush herself off, and go on. So there’s
no greater joy for her than knowing she’s given someone else a hand up.
How the book came to be. Free Lance Star, April 30, 2010.
Davidson College Interview, January 2010.
Free Lance-Star story and book excerpts, April 2010.
CBS Evening News Video, December 2009.
Warren Buffett announces biography in his annual Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders, Free Lance-Star, March 2010.
About the author:
Michael Zitz is an award-winning newspaper reporter and columnist for The
Free Lance-Star, a Virginia daily. He has known Doris Buffett since 1992, before she started to do philanthropic work with
her Sunshine Lady Foundation. He studied journalism at the University of Arizona, the American University and Florida Southern
College. He lives in Fredericksburg, Va.
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