In Memoriam: Doris Buffett 1928-2020

Washington, DC – Members of the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) were deeply saddened to learn that Doris Buffett, a tireless advocate for those in need, and founder of the Sunshine Lady Foundation philanthropic organization, a most generous supporter of the Coalition’s Bognár Family Hungarian Scholarship Fund passed away peacefully on August 4, 2020. She was 92 years old.

Doris Buffett in 2011. Photo credit: New York Times

Doris Eleanor Buffett was born on February 12, 1928, in Omaha, NE, a descendant of a 17th-century Long Island pickle farmer. She represented the sixth generation of her family to live in Nebraska’s largest city and belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Ms. Buffett 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 men, Doris overcame financial ruin in the 1987 stock market crash and conquered cancer that threatened her health. She took every challenge in stride and used it to fuel her empathy for others.

Ms. Buffett 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.

Ms. Buffett 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”.

Ms. Buffett’s 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.

Ms. Buffett started her first foundation, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, in 1996 with the goal of helping those who were “unlucky through no fault of their own”, giving them “not a handout, but a hand up”. In 1998 she met and became friends with the outstanding Hungarian American, Prof. Béla Bognár and his wife, April.  They asked her to support their Hungarian Scholarship Fund, established in 1999, to provide assistance to qualified Hungarian university students living and/or studying in Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, and the United States.

In 2014 the Bognárs requested the Coalition to administer this fund as part of its comprehensive training and education portfolio. After Edith and John Lauer visited Doris Buffett in her Fredericksburg, VA home that year, Ms Buffett decided to continue her support.  It was renamed The Bognár Family Hungarian Scholarship Fund, and Doris Buffett has continued to provide generous support.

Since its inception, the scholarship fund has awarded more than $700,000 to 255 Hungarian students in the US and the Carpathian Basin raised from members of the Hungarian American community; churches; organizations; the Sunshine Lady Foundation (SLF); and recently, by the Ambassadors of the Future.

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, Ms. Buffett 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, Ms. Buffett 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.

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

The Hungarian American community as well as the hundreds of Hungarian students who have benefitted from her support mourn the loss of Ms. Buffett, a selfless philanthropist.

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