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Doris Buffett

Doris Eleanor Buffett

February 12, 1928 - August 4, 2020
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Obituary

To the tens of thousands who wrote her letters asking for help in their darkest hour, she was known as Doris Buffett. To her family, she was known as Dodo. On Tuesday August 4, a tireless advocate for those in need passed peacefully in her favorite vacation spot in Maine surrounded by family and friends.

Doris derived great joy from helping individuals and doing whatever it took to provide a hand up to others. Born on the eve of the Great Depression, into a world that reserved the most advantageous opportunities for gentlemen, Doris endured financial ruin in the 1987 stock market crash and cancer. However, she took every challenge and used it to fuel her empathy for others.

Doris was inspired by the public service of her father, Howard Buffett, who was elected to four terms in Congress by their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

Growing up helping her father campaign for office created a lifelong fascination with politics. In the 1960’s she would organize neighborhood anti-communist women’s groups. In 1964 she was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention.

When not involved in the circus of politics, Doris presided over a virtual zoo at home, indulging her three children in the joys of a menagerie of pets which included monkeys, alligators, a boa constrictor and a horse.

Doris enjoyed speaking to crowds and sharing her brand of Midwestern common sense and blunt directness that peppered her speaking appearances around the country. She was also known for her incredible humor, telling pointed but funny stories that illustrated her philanthropic philosophy. For example, she was fond of jokingly saying she refused to fund the “S.O.B.’s” which she said stood for the “Symphony, Opera and Ballet.”

Her message, resonated 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.”

Though she was known best for her philanthropic work, another lifelong project took her all over the globe as she explored the Buffett family ancestry. Her journeys took her as far as New Zealand, on rough ocean voyages and harrowing transcontinental flights as she collected clues as to the origin of her family tree.

She enjoyed telling the story of when she was in England researching a particular line of the Buffett ancestors and was told by an archivist that her chances of success in her inquiry were not great due to the fact she was researching a “very obscure family.” She enjoyed that quote so much she decided to make it the title of her book detailing decades of discoveries for her family.

Doris’ adventures were not limited to genealogy. At one point, to evade being served a frivolous lawsuit by an ex-husband, Doris dressed as a nun and fled to London borrowing the driver’s license and credit cards of her childhood friend Jeanne from Omaha.

Early in his life, Doris enlisted her grandson, Alexander Rozek, as her sidekick for her adventures. Together they would go to Hershey, Pennsylvania for Chocolate Lover’s Weekend and challenge each other to see how many Hershey’s Kisses they could collect surreptitiously in Dodo’s handbag over two days.

Another time Alexander was sworn to secrecy in exchange for the thrill of Dodo driving him over 100 miles per hour in her blue bullet car down the middle of Interstate 95.

Doris was a fierce advocate for her family, though sometimes things didn't always work out to the family member’s benefit. Though she was not a sports fan, she would attend her grandson’s football games at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After one particularly lopsided win where Alexander received no playing time, to the chagrin of her daughter and grandson, she marched into the team’s locker room after the game and let the head coach have it.

Doris’ philanthropy was empowered by the unconditional support and love of her younger brother, Warren Buffett, who handed his older sister all the letters he received asking for help because he knew she would bring energy and love answering each one.

Doris started her first foundation in 1996 with the goal of helping those, as she put it, who were “unlucky through no fault of their own,” giving them “not a handout, but a hand up.” She believed that we cannot wait for change to come but that we must instead change things ourselves, person by person.

Over the years, Doris tried to reduce inequality wherever it existed, providing scholarships for domestic abuse victims, funding construction of youth baseball fields, and reducing recidivism with prison college degree programs.

No project was too small to escape her attention. When a public pool opened in her town that set a daily entrance fee many neighborhood kids could not afford, Doris threatened to set up a card table at the entrance to the pool and personally hand out $5 bills to any kid that wanted to come in and swim. Buckling to her pressure, the city agreed to accept her advance payment for all children to enjoy the pool that summer and every summer after.

Education was a cornerstone of her philanthropic work. She was an advocate and enthusiast of American history, working with David McCullough in various historic preservation and school projects. Learning by Giving, one of her favorite programs that continues today, has had more than 5,000 students in colleges and universities around the country distribute grants of $10,000 each semester into their communities.

In 2015, Doris moved to Boston to be closer to family including her grandson Alexander and her son Marshall Wood. As she had done in each place she lived before, she sought help from friends and neighbors with her Letters Foundation, which greatly expanded the work she had been doing for decades of answering letters written to her and her brother by those in need. Over the last four years, a small staff in Boston assisted by hundreds of volunteers read over seven thousand individual letters and made personal grants to over 1,000 people.

During her life, Doris distributed more than $200 million. However, her impact cannot be measured fully by dollars, but by the lives forever touched by this strong and compassionate woman.

Doris is survived by her brother Warren, sister Bertie, children Robin, Sydney, and Marshall with his wife Donna, grandson Alexander and his wife Mimi and their two daughters Luna and Remy, grandsons Graham, Asher and Marshall.

Remembrances celebrating this remarkable woman’s life may be submitted at dorisbuffettlegacy.com Local arrangements are in the care of Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home, 110 Limerock Street, Rockland.
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