The World's Greatest Philanthropists

The retail philanthropist

Meet Warren Buffett's elder sister, Doris. She helps those who have had bad luck, not those who make bad choices

Separated by just two years, they played, fought and bonded like most siblings. Both skipped a grade. Of the two, the younger one, the older one admits, was more placid and peaceful. Yet, he would get scolded more often. That was Doris and Warren Buffett in their younger days. Despite that playful rivalry — or perhaps, because of it — it was to Doris that Warren turned when he needed help in 2006. This was just days after he had announced that he would give away the bulk of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Warren was inundated with letters asking for help. Doris Buffett was in Maine when her brother called, asking if she could handle the mail, offering an initial $5 million to take over the chore. Doris had already earned her reputation as the “Sunshine lady”, helping ordinary people overcome their difficult circumstances. She found a bunch of women in Maine who had bare-bones prior experience answering mail and started sorting through the letters.

The first box had 410 letters. “We were able to help a lot, from children to the grave. We bought tombstones on the one hand, saved children from terrible illnesses on the other hand, and did everything in between.” Whatever people wanted — hard cash, teeth or a new pair of glasses — as long as they were victims of circumstances that made them vulnerable, they got what they wanted. Doris helps people who have had bad luck, not those who make bad choices. That distinction is clear in her mind as she herself has gone through a roller-coaster ride in life that makes her appreciate the difference.  

Hard way up

Doris did not start off rich. 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. With some good advice — not financial assistance — from her genius brother, she wriggled out of the situation. In 1996, she was wealthy again — and on a much bigger scale. That was thanks to her share in a trust established by her father — Warren invested the original $100,000 in Berkshire and grew it to over $300 million. Doris took that money to embark on a philanthropic journey with the objective of helping individuals hit

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