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Virginia Press Association names Doris Buffett its Virginian of the Year
Doris Buffett, known as the Sunshine Lady, plans to give her fortune away.
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By MICHAEL ZITZ
When she was a little girl, Doris Buffett prayed that a fairy godmother would whisk her away from an abusive mother. Now she's swooping in herself to help others who've had bad breaks in life.
Since 1996, the Fredericksburg resident known as the Sunshine Lady has given away about $120 million, much of it directly to thousands of individuals who are "unlucky through no fault of their own." She turns 84 this month, and she's eager to give away the rest of her fortune.
"The plan is for my last check to bounce," she says with a laugh.
She has been named the Virginia Press Association's Virginian of the Year for outstanding community service and will be honored at a banquet at the Hotel Roanoke on April 20. Former winners of the award have included author David Baldacci, TV newsman Roger Mudd and tennis icon Arthur Ashe.
The Free Lance-Star nominated Buffett for the honor.
If her name sounds familiar, it should--her brother is Warren Buffett, the world's most famous investor and one of the richest men on earth.
Few know that Doris and Warren were emotionally abused when they were growing up in Omaha, Neb., and later in Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C., when their father, Howard, served in Congress.
When Doris was 12, she locked herself in a closet to get away from her mother, whom she now believes was bipolar.
"I won't remember this when I'm 40," she kept whispering to herself, crying. Outside the door, her mother, Leila Buffett, continued one of a lifelong series of vicious verbal attacks.
"She was never happy till I was sobbing," Doris Buffet recalls.
On the day of the 1987 stock market crash, she lost nearly everything she had, going $2 million into debt. She had to take in boarders to keep from losing her Fredericksburg home.
When her mother died in 1996, Doris Buffet inherited great wealth from a family trust. And although she never got her wish for a fairy godmother, the money allowed her to be a fairy godmother to others. She started the Sunshine Lady Foundation that year.
"Doris has always had enormous empathy for the person who has really gotten a short straw in life," Warren Buffett says. "I think that if our father was alive today, he'd be prouder of Doris than of me."
Staff reporter Michael Zitz is the author of "Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story."
Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163