Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story

Overview

When she was a toddler in Omaha, her parents called her Mary Sunshine.

Warren Buffett's big sister Doris has never lost that quality, despite personal problems that would have soured others on the world. The "retail" philanthropist known as the Sunshine Lady derives such joy from helping others on a one on one basis that emotional abuse by a mother who may have been bipolar, a string of horrific marriages, nearly losing her home after the 1987...

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Overview

When she was a toddler in Omaha, her parents called her Mary Sunshine.

Warren Buffett's big sister Doris has never lost that quality, despite personal problems that would have soured others on the world. The "retail" philanthropist known as the Sunshine Lady derives such joy from helping others on a one on one basis that emotional abuse by a mother who may have been bipolar, a string of horrific marriages, nearly losing her home after the 1987 stock market crash, two bouts of cancer, and, worst of all, estrangement from her own children, have never hardened her heart.

Instead, her own problems have caused empathy for others, evident since childhood, to deepen over the years. She has donated $100 million of her own money, mostly to individuals in trouble through no fault of their own, often taking the time to call them personally to determine the best way to help. At 82, her goal is to give away her entire fortune, which remains substantial despite her generosity and the stock market crash of 2008.

"She identifies with the underdog," Warren says.

Perhaps more important than the material gifts she bestows is her message, resonating through her own example: We can all write our own destiny. We can all maintain nobility, optimism and selflessness in the face of uncertainty and pain. And caring for others more than we do for ourselves is the most rewarding thing in life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Doris Buffet, the 82-year-old sister of billionaire Warren Buffet, has a simple life mission: to give away her millions before she dies ("'My goal... is for the last check I write to bounce'"). The oldest of three, Doris was raised by an unstable, emotionally abusive mother and a frequently absent father (a businessman and four-term Congressman). Adulthood provided little relief: Doris dropped out of college dropout, embarked on four disastrous marriages, suffered from depression, and maintains stormy relationships with her own grown children. It wasn't until Doris's mother died in 1975 that Doris found her niche in "retail" philanthropy, giving away her inheritance ($100 million and counting) in large part directly to individuals who write to her Sunshine Lady Foundation seeking funds for any number of reasons: to afford a glass eye, start school, or simply furnish a new bedroom for a child. Though Warren declined to help Doris in lean times and holds some opposing views (especially regarding their mother), he speaks admiringly of her here. Zitz, a journalist befriended by Buffet, lets the dynamic philanthropist-who he describes as "a combination of Gandhi, Santa Claus and Lucille Ball"-tell the majority of her own story, making this more an oral history than a conventional biography, and a lively, inspirational read for fellow philanthropists and those who depend on them. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Inspiring story of a woman who is using her wealth for philanthropy. At 82, Warren Buffett's older sister, Doris, has contributed more than $100 million in support of battered women, sick children, the mentally ill and others through a highly personal style of giving that sets her Sunshine Lady Foundation apart from larger organizations staffed with trained professionals. In this admiring account-more tribute than biography-Zitz, a reporter with the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., where Doris Buffett lives, describes her difficult life and her success as a philanthropist since inheriting her mother's Berkshire Hathaway shares in 1996. Writing with Doris's cooperation, Zitz tells an upbeat story of charitable giving that has its roots in this bright and attractive woman's misfortunes. Emotionally abused by a mother who apparently disliked her children, Doris was made to feel stupid and unloved ("I never heard the words ?I love you,' " she writes). She struggled through four disastrous marriages and depression, nearly lost her home in the 1987 stock-market crash, had cancer twice and remains estranged from her children. Now, writes Zitz, she wants "poor children, sick kids and abused women to experience a little happiness" through her targeted gifts that help them weather crises and move ahead on their own. Friends and other nonprofessionals help her vet letters from the needy to select recipients. The book offers intriguing glimpses of young Warren Buffett-he provides a foreword-and describes how Doris became an anti-communist activist and Barry Goldwater supporter in the early '60s to have something to talk about with her dying father, a Republican Congressman. The author offers moving examples of Doris's philanthropy and rightly praises her support of prisoner education at Sing Sing and San Quentin prisons, among other causes shunned by most of her peers. Having learned what matters the hard way, she is determined to give all her money away to others who have also been unlucky in life. Despite some puffery, this is a readable portrait of a remarkable individual.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781579622091
  • Publisher: Permanent Press, The
  • Publication date: 5/1/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 846,641
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Zitz has been a writer for Directors & Boards and Mergers & Acquisitions journals in Washington and 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., with his wife and children.

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