By the Editorial page staff of the Free Lance-Star
THE ONLY reluctance one has in recounting the acts of generosity bestowed upon the Fredericksburg area by Doris Buffett and the Sunshine Lady Foundation is in the fear of leaving something out.
We’re willing to risk that because the impact of her philanthropy, which has also reached well beyond Fredericksburg, will be felt for years and even generations to come. It should be applauded and celebrated to the fullest extent possible. She has always referred to her work as a hand-up, not a handout.
Over the past 22 years, the Fredericksburg area and its residents have benefited greatly from her largesse. Since the Sunshine Lady Foundation was established in 1996, it has donated some $100 million to myriad causes here and elsewhere. The remaining $30 million in assets will be spent over the next three or four years, according to foundation director Mitty Beal.
Starting in 2006, Buffett provided funds each year sufficient to allow city children to use the Dixon Street park pool for free. Ten years later, it was renamed the Doris E. Buffett Pool in her honor. This year, her foundation established a $1 million endowment to provide free use of the pool in perpetuity.
Her $2 million gift to the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board to bolster its mental health services resulted in the Sunshine Lady House for Mental Health Wellness and Recovery in Fredericksburg, which opened in 2009.
She donated $1 million toward construction of Sunshine Ballpark, completed in 2012 in a low-income area of Fredericksburg. She added another $100,000 so kids in need could play for free in the Sunshine Baseball League.
In 2013, the foundation contributed $1.5 million to buy the building that would become the new Empowerhouse, a local shelter for women escaping domestic violence. Her national Women’s Independence Scholarship Program, springing from a $30 million commitment, has provided scholarships to thousands of women fleeing abusive situations.
With a $2 million donation in 2015, she established the Gladys P. Todd Academy at Germanna Community College, which seeks out local high school students who are willing to study hard but need financial assistance. Participants receive mentoring, tutoring and dual enrollment scholarships. Without further funding, the five-year program ends in 2020.
Also in 2015, Buffett donated $1 million to Micah Ministries in Fredericksburg to help find housing for the city’s homeless.
Coffeewood Correctional Center in Culpeper is among 20 institutions nationwide for which the Sunshine Lady Foundation is providing prisoner education programs that will lead to college degrees. The $500,000 spent at Coffeewood pays for Germanna Community College faculty members to teach inmates there.
Buffett, who is 90, is the sister of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The Free Lance–Star is owned by the subsidiary BH Media.
A 2010 biography of Doris Buffett titled “Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story,” written by her friend and former Free Lance–Star reporter Michael Zitz, helps explain her connection to Fredericksburg.
Buffett made her home in Fredericksburg until moving to the Boston area in 2016 to be closer to family and to receive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Buffet’s fondness for Fredericksburg was rooted in the childhood years she spent here. Her father, Howard Buffett, was elected to Congress in 1942 from Omaha, Neb., and brought his family east. To ease the culture shock between Omaha and Washington, he rented a house in Fredericksburg for his family to live in.
Unlike her younger, homesick siblings Warren and Bertie, Doris loved Fredericksburg and her years at James Monroe High School. She was disappointed when the family moved to Washington, where her father was still in Congress, in 1947.
Decades later, she returned to Fredericksburg because it was where she wanted to live.
Because Buffett’s illness has left her unable to remain involved in her foundation, the extent of future support for her favored beneficiaries in Fredericksburg is uncertain. We hope her commitment to the area and its people remains part of the foundation leadership’s decision-making process.
We know that Buffett has been far from alone locally in providing much-needed and heartfelt philanthropic support. We also know that while the area’s wealthiest residents are among its primary charitable donors, and anticipate that their benevolence will continue, every individual who is able can help improve the lives of the our less fortunate.
Clearly the mark that Doris Buffett has left on the Fredericksburg area and its people is indelible, and the appreciation for what she has accomplished will endure.