Philanthropist Doris Buffett shares life anecdotes at museum benefit

Posted July 29, 2010, at 10:34 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Doris Buffett, sister of investor Warren Buffett, spoke about her life as a philanthropist at a benefit Thursday night that raised more than $50,000 for the Gen. Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston, a museum that has received a large gift from Buffett.

Buffet filled her talk, “Giving It All Away,” with anecdotes from her life. Buffett said she grew up in Kansas with a mother who took out her rage on her, suffered through the Great Depression and saw frugal times as a young wife before coming into an inheritance that now allows her to do philanthropic work through her Sunshine Lady Foundation.

Buffett said her goal is to give all of her money away before she dies.

The 82-year-old has made many donations in the midcoast area after purchasing a house here in 2002.

For one program, which helps educate Mainers in a midcoast prison, Buffett hired professors to help inmates attain college degrees. According to Buffett, the national rate of recidivism is about 65 percent. In her program the rate is zero percent.

She described a table of inmates eating lunch, their heads down.

“Normally they would be figuring out a way to break — or kill a guard. But no. They are doing their homework,” she said.

Among other work, her organization sifts through the letters her brother Warren Buffett receives and chooses who is most worthy of help. Buffett has enlisted eight midcoast women to sit around a table and read each letter.

“They read 907 letters last month,” she said.

The 6 p.m. event at The Strand Theatre was hosted by news anchor Rob Caldwell of WCSH-TV Channel 6, who asked Buffett questions before opening it up to the crowd.

The Gen. Henry Knox Museum gala is the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser, according to executive director Ellen Dyer. All proceeds from the ticket sales benefited the museum. Exact numbers of how much was raised were not available late Thursday, but Dyer said the event had exceeded the $50,000 goal before Doris Buffett stepped onstage.

Buffett offered the museum a $100,000 matching donation to preserve the museum’s collection, contingent on the museum raising $100,000.

MaryAgnes Lawler, who is on the museum’s board of trustees, attended the event in a costume from Gen. Henry Knox’s era. She said she “thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“I knew she was funny, but it was nice to hear her stories in her words,” Lawler said.

Buffett said having a sense of humor helps in her work. She told stories about the battered women she helps by giving scholarships and about one woman who went on to become a nurse — and how that woman’s child already plans to become a doctor so the child can boss Mom around.

“I’m investing now in people,” she said. “In the end, I think I did the right thing.”

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