Former Morehead City resident Doris Buffett died Tuesday in her hometown of Rockport, Me and it is appropriate to note the impact she had on our community and thousands of recipients of her generosity, but also to note the very kind of individual she was.
Doris Buffett was a rare person. A woman of significant wealth, Doris was so passionate about helping people that she dedicated her time and talent in disposing her immense wealth to organizations and people who were in need. Her brother, renowned financial investor Warren Buffett noted, “she really wanted her last check to bounce,” which would indicate that she had given away all of her financial savings.
Writers have opined that this outlook for others was the result of the loneliness experienced from a distant mother and the observations as a child growing up in Omaha, Neb. seeing the devastation wrought by the Great Depression. But whatever the reason, there is no question as to the impact her life and generosity had on so many others
Benefiting from her brother Warren Buffett’s success as one of the wealthiest investors in the world, Doris was a millionaire in her own right. But you would never know it if you met her on the street. She eschewed the accoutrements of wealth. No retinue of guards and sycophants followed her. She drove her own car, shopped in the local stores and made friends within the community. Yet with her, and her brother’s hundreds of millions of dollars, she graciously and quietly improved the lives of others and the communities in which she lived.
In 1996 while living in Morehead City with her husband Al Bryant she initiated the Sunshine Lady Foundation, dedicated to providing assistance to individuals and organizations that were themselves focused on future opportunities. The program began with a request from her brother to read the thousands of letters he was receiving to determine who and what deserved financial support. Starting off with a $10 million initial funding for the project, Doris morphed the endeavor into the foundation and contributed over $200 million of her own funds.
Doris leaves a big footprint in the county as she did in several other communities in which she resided including, Fredericksburg Va., Wilmington, N.C., and Rockport, Me. Numbering among the hundreds of beneficiaries in the county are the Boys and Girls Club of Morehead City, which is known as the Sunshine Lady Club, and the library at White Oak Elementary School.
She avoided what she called “the S.O.B.’s” (symphonies, operas and ballets) with her generosity. She was more focused on people supporting domestic violence victims, low income families and their children, prison inmates, and families dealing with mental illness.
Her foundation also provided college scholarships but not in a casual, forgetful fashion. According to Tabbie Nance, a member of the Sunshine Lady Foundation committee, Doris held the beneficiaries accountable. She had regular meetings with the scholarship recipients, reviewed their grades and required that they not go into debt, to include not having a credit card in their names.
As of 2019 her financial gifts in the form of scholarships amounted to $11.5 million, assisting 4,600 students in their educational efforts.
“For Doris, a financial gift was a hand-up not a handout,” Ms. Nance explained. And Doris herself noted this attention on the recipients stating “I do consider these (financial gifts) as investments rather than giveaways, and I’m looking for a good return on them. The best return is when lives change for the better in some ways. That’s the commanding thought behind all I do.”
It is easy to focus on the funds that Doris so generously and intentionally gave away but there is a uniqueness to her generosity. It wasn’t casual, it was subtly very personal. That personal investment meant that not only did her gifts have impact on the lives of the recipients but obviously an impact on her life as well.
Speaking about his sister’s generosity and focus, Warren Buffett noted, “Some people write a large number of checks. Others invest a large amount of time and effort. Doris does both. She’s smart about how she does it as well, combining a soft heart with a hard head.”
In the end it is interesting to note that Doris Buffett’s wealth was not a barrier but instead a bridge to those who were less fortunate and, in her words were “decent people who just didn’t have the breaks somebody else did.” She leaves Carteret County with a rich legacy of kindness, hope and sunshine.