Self-styled "retail philanthropist" Doris Eleanor Buffett, the eldest sister of Berkshire Hathaway chair and CEO Warren Buffett, passed away on August 4 at her home in Rockport, Maine, the New York Times reports. She was 92.
Upon inheriting a large chunk of Berkshire Hathaway stock from her mother in 1996, Buffett founded the Sunshine Lady Foundation, which invests in organizations and programs dedicated to providing opportunities in the areas of education, well-being, and new life choices for disadvantaged people. The foundation's funding priorities include prison college-degree programs, support for victims and survivors of domestic violence, and a college scholarship program for students from eastern North Carolina. After her brother announced his intention to donate the bulk of his fortune to charity in 2006, he began receiving hundreds of letters from people in need of financial assistance. Doris Buffett stepped in to help her brother by assembling a team of women to read and reply to the letters, research the cases, and make decisions about which of the letter writers should receive assistance. Buffett eventually gave more than $200 million of her own money to individuals and charitable causes.
After a dispute between Sunshine Lady Foundation staff and her family in 2018, the program was spun off as the Letters Foundation and continued to respond to what had become a deluge of requests for help. Described on its website as "a foundation of last resort that provides humanitarian grants to people experiencing hardship when no other options exist," it has awarded more than $10.5 million in one-time grants; the foundation is scheduled to sunset this year and is no longer accepting new requests.
"I do consider these as investments rather than giveaways, and I'm looking for a good return on them," Buffett told the New York Times in a 2011 interview. "The best return is when lives change for the better in some way. That's the commanding thought behind all I do."
Much of Buffett's giving was focused on cities she called home at one point or another, including Fredericksburg, Virginia; Wilmington and Beaufort, North Carolina; and Rockport. Buffett, who in later life suffered from Alzheimer's disease, is survived by three children from her first marriage; her sister, Bertie Buffett Elliott; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Although she was divorced four times and lost a small fortune in the 1987 stock market crash, she "by no means, lives a spartan life," Warren Buffett wrote in the foreword to Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story, an authorized biography published in 2010. "But she does give away money that, were it used personally, would make her life easier," he added. "She is one of the rare well-off individuals who reduces her net worth annually by making charitable contributions."