Remembering Doris

The Aspen Institute

“When It Came to Educational Opportunities in Prison, Doris Buffett Was Ahead of the Curve.”

When It Came to Educational Opportunities in Prison, Doris Buffett Was Ahead of the Curve

August 19, 2020 – Douglas Wood

A few years ago, the phone rang in my office at the Ford Foundation. I picked up and recognized a familiar voice: “Doug,” the voice said. “What are you doing next Thursday?” I replied, “I guess I’m going somewhere with you.” With a hearty laugh, Doris Buffett, a friend and well-known philanthropist, explained her plans. “I’m going to graduation at Sing Sing and if you can, I’d like for you to be there with me. My brother spoke there a couple of years ago and it’s a nice ceremony.” At the time, the Ford Foundation and Doris’ Sunshine Lady Foundation were jointly funding the Hudson Link Project inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Attending the graduation with Doris was a no brainer. With her usual enthusiasm she said, “Meet me out in front of the Big House at six!”

Doris Buffett was one of a kind—thoughtful, direct, intelligent, generous, dedicated, committed, strong, witty. Although she is no longer with us, Doris left a lasting legacy, one that has touched thousands of incarcerated individuals and their families all over this country. Among her many philanthropic endeavors, which also included women’s rights, Doris was a proponent of high-quality postsecondary opportunities for incarcerated students. She filled the void for many years as one of the only funders of college-in-prison programs in the US. “I’m perfectly willing to put money where the greatest need is,” she said in an interview at a Sing Sing graduation. The reporter noted that, given her wealth, Doris could be anywhere in the world other than inside a maximum-security prison.  She explained, “I’m where I want to be. And how.”

Not everyone felt this way. With the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress banned incarcerated individuals seeking postsecondary education from accessing Pell grants. The number of participating students dropped by nearly half (44%) within a year of this decision. In the ensuing decade, over 90% of college-in-prison programs across the country folded. But thanks to advocates, grassroots organizations, investments from the private sector and foundations, and Doris’ work, the momentum has steadily grown for the development and implementation of such programs. This July, the US House of Representatives voted to lift the ban on Pell grants for individuals in state and federal prisons.

Disparities in educational attainment between incarcerated individuals and the general population are striking. The gap between the two groups with regard to postsecondary education is almost twice as high as the gap for high school diploma/GED attainment. With nearly 500,000 people coming out of prison every year—the majority of whom are not equipped with the requisite skills for employment— and with the reduction in prison populations across the country, access to quality educational programming while in prison is increasingly imperative. Ninety percent of today’s fastest-growing jobs require a postsecondary education. Access to higher education for incarcerated individuals is particularly critical both while in prison and during the reentry process. Without it, members of this population will not have the tools they need to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

A renewed interest in this work has resulted in more research and investment in programs. According to RAND’s meta-analysis, education for incarcerated adults reduces the risk of recidivism by 43% with a savings of five dollars on recidivism costs for every dollar spent on education programs in prison.  Although more research is needed with respect to long-term outcomes for participants in college-in-prison programs after release, data such as these are promising.

Beyond issues of employment and recidivism, high-quality college-in-prison programs have a democratizing element to them. Education gives incarcerated individuals the tools to become more civically engaged in ways that will allow them to take full responsibility for themselves, their families, and their communities. Ideally, these programs also provide meaningful exposure to the arts to allow for free expression and artistic creativity.

With funding from foundations partnering with state and local jurisdictions, there have been a number of successful statewide systemic programs that were launched: the Vera Institute of Justice’s Unlocking Potential: Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project; Corrections to College California (formerly the Renewing Communities Project); and the federal government’s recently expanded Second Chance Pell project which is now in 42 states and the District of Columbia. With Doris leading the way, philanthropy has stepped up significantly in recent years including the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Gates Foundation, Art for Justice Fund, Ballmer Group, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, ECMC Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, Arnold Ventures, Weingart Foundation, Ascendium Education Group and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation among others. The Mellon Foundation not only continues to fund college-in-prison programs but has recently launched the incredibly exciting Million Books Project which seeks to add libraries in 1,000 prisons across the United States.

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, former dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education argues in her book Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison that educating people in prison is part of building a democracy. When incarcerated individuals have access to education, the benefits—including increased levels of hope, decreased recidivism rates, increased employment opportunities, giving back to communities, and stronger relationships with family members—ripple widely both inside and outside correctional facilities.

When I think about all the elements bound together in the issue of college-in-prison, I think about the continuum that starts with a person’s early schooling and continues through to the policing of communities, arrest and sentencing, intake, time served in a facility, the period before release, moment of release, and what happens afterward. If we’re going to transform the way the system operates, we must think about and beyond the system to the overlapping, interstitial challenges that exist in communities of concentrated poverty. This is even more imperative in the age of COVID. Centering our work around racial equity and education while being bolder in our calls for change is critically important.

I think Doris would agree. And how.

Link to the original article here.

Bangor Daily News

“Doris Buffett's wise investment will help generations in Maine.”

Doris Buffett's wise investment will help generations in Maine

Educare Central Maine, one of the recipient organizations of Buffett’s generosity, echoes the significance of not only her charity, but her strategic vision ensuring her investments impact multiple generations.

The first Educare School, established in 2000 in Chicago, still serves today as the first of 25 Educare Schools, a nationwide demonstration model for how to break the cycle of poverty by closing the learning gap for children from low-income or stressed environments before entering kindergarten. Buffett was inspired by her niece, Susie Buffet’s Early Childhood Fund that was expanding the model. The longer-term independent studies were already making the case for what we have learned in Maine since Educare began operations in 2010 with Buffett’s $3 million pledge toward a $9 million investment: when young, low-income children are served in Educare’s high-quality program consistently for four years, they are on par with their well-resourced peers and ready for successful kindergarten-entry socially, emotionally and cognitively.

Buffett’s significant investment to bring an Educare School to Maine was the catalyst for state administration, foundation and stakeholder commitment to improve early childhood education, setting a public-private plan in motion to establish the first Educare School in the northeast. Educare Central Maine is a partnership between Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, Waterville Public Schools, the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

Based on extensive research, Educare’s model framework is based on four core features: high-quality teaching practices; embedded professional development; intensive family engagement; and data utilization. Research-based evaluation is a key component of each Educare School, collectively by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and locally by the University of Maine.

Educare Central Maine opened its doors in 2010, annually serving 200 of the highest needs children in the Waterville community, positively impacting 1,375 young children and their families. Children with continuity of care (year over year) demonstrate sustained growth, scoring slightly ahead of their peers. One hundred percent of families receive education on supporting their developing child and receive support toward parent goal attainment such as securing improved housing or transportation, sustaining employment or advancing their career path, many pursuing higher education. The myriad of supports for children and their families creates positive change in the trajectory of a young child’s life!

Buffett’s investment reaches far beyond Waterville. As we strive to impact the lives of children and their families locally, we are equally committed to sharing what we have learned across the state through our Beyond the Walls effort. Recently, the Elevate Maine-Somerset project utilized Educare’s core features and skilled staff coaches to expand high-quality early childhood services through a network of independent rural childcare programs. The impact on the primary 113 children and their parents served over the past five years exceeded our expectations.

Maine Community Action Partners are in the process of submitting a statewide Early Head Start Child Care Partnership federal grant application to expand the success of this project. Additionally, the Maine Legislature, in partnership with advocates and seasoned early educators, have proposed a multitude of bills that tap into Educare’s core features for a community-based approach to comprehensive health, social services and quality childcare.

Buffett’s passion and generosity created a ripple effect and a profound legacy in Maine. As our state rebuilds the childcare workforce capacity lost due to the pandemic, we believe it is our collective duty to honor her legacy by ensuring that all children in Maine, especially those born into stressed environments, have the chance to succeed in education and life, which benefits all of us today and for years to come.

Jim Clair is the CEO of CSS Health and chairperson of the Educare Central Maine board of directors. Bill Alfond is the president of the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation and a member of Educare Central Maine’s board of directors.

Link to the original article here.

Cornell University Prison Education Program

“Doris Buffett walked the walk. We would not be where we are today were it not for her.”

CPEP was launched with a grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation, founded by Doris Buffett. This support elevated Cornell's early offering of a few prison courses at Auburn to a regular degree-granting program there. Above, Doris poses with the first graduating class at Auburn prison in 2012.

An early supporter of higher education in prison, Doris always attended graduation ceremonies. Her witty, no-nonsense zingers drew people to their feet in applause.

“I will never forget her devotion to attending our December 2014 graduation in a blizzard, arriving mid-ceremony from Virginia through twelve inches of snow and up the tremendous staircase to the Auburn auditorium," recalls CPEP faculty and co-founding board member Mary Katzenstein.

CPEP Executive Director Rob Scott said, “Doris Buffett walked the walk. We would not be where we are today were it not for her."


“She was a vibrant and sparkling philanthropist who will be much missed.”

A Tribute to Doris Buffett, Philanthropist

We are sad to report that Doris Buffett passed away at the grand age of 92. Doris Buffett donated more than $100 million in her own money to help people who need it. Sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, Doris called FRAXA “The Gold Standard” in grass roots charities. She donated more than $3 million to FRAXA in challenge grants.

She was a vibrant and sparkling philanthropist who will be much missed.

Doris Buffett was introduced to FRAXA by Mary Beth and David Busby. We hope you will enjoy Mary Beth’s tribute to Doris.


I have so many wonderful memories of Doris—starting back in the early 1980’s, when she moved to the condo where David and I lived. She was up for doing things like walking down to our local restaurant and getting together a few other neighbors to visit a local museum. As we left there, Doris said, “Oh, I just feel so edified!” I don’t know why little things stick with me, but that one did. And when I told her that I had lost my Helen Corbitt cook book that had the best-ever corn bread recipe, she immediately sent me her copy of the book, saying she was not likely ever to use it again. And David and I visited her a couple of times for lunch in Fredericksburg. We went to a place where all the businessmen go and they came by our table one-by-one to greet Doris, who clearly held court there on a regular basis. Doris loved men and men loved Doris!

Most of all, though, I remember when she decided that she wanted to explore FRAXA’s work and it was then that I learned about the Sunshine Lady Foundation and the spectacular work Doris did. She was into making challenge grants, being of the opinion that her grantees should be partners of hers, not just recipients of her largess. Every time she issued us a challenge, FRAXA met that challenge. Doris liked that and she appreciated FRAXA’s energy and results and the fact that we attracted major interest from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Doris was a good and kind and thoughtful person, besides being great fun as a friend. I will so miss her, and I know many of her friends and admirers are acutely feeling her loss.

Mary Beth Busby

Doris Buffett and Mary Beth Busby
at FRAXA’s 2009 Gala in Washington, DC

Link to the FRAXA tribute here.

News Center Maine

“Although he will almost certainly end up giving more than one hundred billion dollars to charity, Warren called Doris the “real philanthropist” in the family.”

The remarkable Maine philanthropist you likely never heard of

Warren Buffett made a fortune and Doris Buffett helped give it away

Author: Rob Caldwell

Published: 1:52 PM EDT August 10, 2020

Updated: 2:25 PM EDT August 10, 2020

ROCKLAND, Maine — When I interviewed Doris Buffett in 2010, we sat on the deck of her condo overlooking Rockport Harbor. It was a surprisingly modest place, attractive and pleasant but not something you’d ever see in the pages of the glossy magazines devoted to impeccably decorated homes. She laughed when she said that from her place she looked across the water to the houses of the people who really had money.

Doris Buffett had money, although not as much as you might think given that her brother, investor Warren Buffett, is one of the richest people on the planet, worth roughly eighty billion dollars. Every week his mailbox fills up with letters from people asking if he might lend them a hand. The correspondence can be poignant: requests for money for hearing aids, dentures, clothes for a family, a gravestone for a child, a visit to a doctor, even a glass eye.

Years ago Warren started forwarding the letters to Doris, who would go through them with a team of volunteers from the Rockport area. Often she’d send money to the people who wrote, but only after checking out their stories and making sure they had a path forward. She gave people a hand up, not a handout, and stayed away entirely from what she called “S.O.B’s—symphony, opera and ballet.” Far more rewarding to her was providing money to help prison inmates in Maine get a college degree. Although he will almost certainly end up giving more than one hundred billion dollars to charity, Warren called Doris the “real philanthropist” in the family.

Doris Buffett died at her home in Rockport on August 4 at the age of 92, and that prompted us to take a fresh look at our interview with her. In it she came across as smart, funny, no-nonsense, and dedicated to helping others. Her brother has long said he will give away 99% of his wealth. Doris wanted to eliminate even that remaining one percent. Her goal, she said on many occasions, was to bounce the last check she ever wrote.

Link to original article here.

University of Maine at Augusta

“Doris Buffett was a Superhero.”

Honoring the Late, Great Doris Buffett

By University of Maine at Augusta – Rockland Center | Oct 21, 2020

Doris Buffett, known as a retail philanthropist, died at her home in Rockport on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, at the age of 92.  The following tribute was sent to UMA Rockland's Director, Deborah Meehan, by Shaun Libby, an inmate at the Maine State Prison.

Through Doris Buffett's generosity, in 2006 the University of Maine at Augusta started a college program at the Maine State Prison. Since then 141 college degrees have been awarded. The recidivism rate for the college students is less than 5%.  The program continues to this day and has expanded to 5 correctional facilities in Maine.

The World Lost a Real Life Superhero on 8/4/20

by Shaun Libby

Doris Buffett was a Superhero. This may seem like an odd statement to most, but I assure you for those who knew Doris Buffett it's not odd at all.  I know what some of you may be thinking. What superpowers did Doris Buffett have? I counter by asking what superpowers do Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) have?  They're just rich guys with an affinity for tech.  Doris may have been wealthy but, instead of an affinity for tech, she had an affinity for people and their stories.  Like those well-known superheroes, Doris used her wealth to fight injustice and inequality.  Her powers were kindness, faith in people, and the belief in the ability of people to change.  Instead of making shiny suits (she preferred sweaters) and fancy gadgets (a smile and a handshake) Doris actually talked to people, and perhaps more importantly, listened to them.  In this day and age, I would argue those are superpowers that rival any others.

If you still want to continue this debate you may point out that superheroes regularly save the lives of countless people.  Well, the simple answer to that is so did Doris Buffett.  The work she and her Sunshine Lady Foundation have done to help survivors of Domestic Violence undoubtedly saved countless lives of women and their children.  However, for Doris and her work it wasn't just about saving someone from imminent death and then flying away. She was all about helping people better their lives moving forward.  She was known to ask, “What's next?", meaning if she helped someone out of particular circumstances she wanted to know what could be done to make sure they never found themselves in those same circumstances again.  Doris was also known to say she wanted to help people help themselves by giving them a hand up not a hand out.

Not convinced yet?  You say that superheroes are expected to keep our communities safe and ask how one woman could do that.  Well, allow me to tell you.  First, she was not just one woman doing it.  Like many other superheroes, Doris had her trusty sidekick Mitty Beal and a team of talented women around her akin to the Avengers or the Justice League.  Secondly, the national recidivism rate is roughly 65%.  This means that roughly 65% of people released from prisons and jails around the country will return within three years.  They get released and continue committing countless crimes and creating more victims in our communities, which, in turn, makes our communities less safe.  Doris learned about this problem and decided to do something about it. Through her Sunshine Lady Foundation she established college programs in numerous prisons in multiple states.  Numerous people graduated from college through her programs and those graduates collectively have a recidivism rate in the single digits. In Maine the rate is less than 5%. That is a huge drop in people returning to prison or jail, which means a huge drop in new crimes, new victims of crime, and that unquestionably makes our communities a whole lot safer.

Still not convinced? Well then maybe you need some time away in Arkham Asylum (sorry, a Batman comic book reference).  You may not be convinced by reading this, but there are countless people in this world who knew Doris, and who Doris helped, who are convinced.  I was convinced way before I ever met Doris. I came to know Doris as the Sunshine Lady (alter ego, check!) after I was told I was accepted into the inaugural group of the Sunshine Lady Foundation- University of Maine at Augusta College Program at the Maine State Prison.  The fact that this woman, whom I had never met, was putting her money and faith behind me absolutely blew my mind.  The more I learned about Doris the more I understood that was just who she was.  The first time I had the honor of meeting Doris I couldn't stop thanking her for the opportunity she had given me and the other men in our group.  Doris told me that the best way I could show my appreciation was to excel in my studies and continue paying it forward.  I graduated from UMA with my Bachelor's Degree in Mental Health and Human Services and am involved in various positive things around here to help people better this environment, as are many other men.  It is by no means a coincidence that many of the men doing positive work inside and outside these walls were also recipients of Doris' generosity.

Some people say you should never meet your heroes. The insinuation is that they will let you down or disappoint you in some way.  Well, I was fortunate enough to meet one of my heroes on multiple occasions and I am grateful, and far better off, for each opportunity.  Doris gave me, and so many others, hope for a better future and very few people have that kind of power.  It is exceptionally rare that you get to meet someone who possesses the power to make you want to be better and do better, but Doris Buffett was indeed one of those rare people.

Doris wasn't flashy, didn't have superhuman strength, and she wasn't a martial arts expert. Her fighting style could best be described as hand-to-hand philanthropy.  However, like the best superheroes, Doris Buffett's powers were always used for good and they undeniably changed the world for the better.  She is already greatly missed and will be for a very long time.

Rest in peace Sunshine Lady. Your legacy will live on in those who knew you and the countless people you helped with your powers.

Link to original article here.

Women for Afghan Women

“Ms. Buffett laid the groundwork of what we do today. She took a chance on a seed idea – that has turned into WAW in Afghanistan today. It is hard to get that first grant. She made it all possible. She trusted our vision.”

Women for Afghan Women pays tribute to the remarkable life of Doris Buffett.

Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is sad to learn of the passing of Doris Buffett.  For WAW, Ms. Buffett is a visionary hero who helped us grow from a grassroots organization into the largest women's right organization in Afghanistan.

Doris' involvement with WAW began over a decade ago, when WAW's founding Executive Director, Manizha Naderi, came back from an exploratory trip to Afghanistan where she personally conducted a thorough needs-based assessment of the most pressing needs of Afghan women and girls and came up with a culturally relevant and safe plan to protect and support women and girls who experience and are at risk of violence and human rights abuses.  Part of Manizha's vision was to create a Family Guidance Center and Women's Protection Center, where Afghan families can resolve their family disputes and seek legal and psychological support and, if necessary, receive physical protection from gender-based violence.  Manizha's vision was comprehensive ad to the point, but without financial resources, WAW was unable to materialize these plans.

Then a board member met Doris Buffett.

After hearing WAW's vision, Doris took a chance and made the first grant to launch WAW's programming in Afghanistan.  The result of that investment is a effort that now serves 10.000+ women and children every year and includes 32 centers and programs operating in 24 provinces throughout the country.

In learning of Ms. Buffett's passing, Manizha reflected, “Ms. Buffett laid the groundwork of what we do today.  She took a chance on a seed idea – that has turned into WAW in Afghanistan today.  It is hard to get that first grant.  She made it all possible.  She trusted our vision."

As WAW's Afghanistan programming grew, Doris and the Sunshine Lady Foundation continued to invest in the futures of Afghan women and girls by providing scholarships for their education.

Thousands of WAW's staff and beneficiaries are forever grateful for the commitment Ms. Buffett had for the protection and advancement of women and girls around the world.  That commitment has saved thousands of lives in Afghanistan alone.

Doris will remain a champion for women's rights for many Afghan women, whose lives have been touched by her generous spirit and her firm belief in justice and gender equality for the women of Afghanistan.

Our deepest condolences to the family.

Some of our favorite photographs of Doris