Warren Buffett Is on a Radical Track

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Mark Seliger for TIME

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But she was also responsible for deeper transformations, like Warren's conversion from Republican to Democrat. A civil rights supporter, Susie was involved in helping integrate Omaha in the 1960s, going so far as to front for blacks who wanted to buy houses in white neighborhoods. She took Warren to hear people like Martin Luther King Jr. speak. One speech in particular, given at Iowa's Grinnell College, became a turning point for Buffett. The topic was "Remaining Awake During a Revolution," and one line in particular chimed deeply with the young investor: "It may be true that the law can't change the heart," said King, "but it can restrain the heartless." It was something that Buffett began to think deeply about. Led by Susie, he became more involved in liberal politics, helping overturn anti-Semitic membership rules at the Omaha Club and doing Democratic fundraising at a national level.

It was the first time there had been space in Warren's life for anything outside of moneymaking, and it was Susie's doing. She was "a great giver," he says, "and I was a great taker." But the dichotomy eventually resulted in separation. After their children were grown, Susie, who hungered for a life of arts and culture that she could never have in Omaha and who wanted to pursue a career as a singer, decided to move out of their home and into an apartment in San Francisco. Warren reluctantly agreed. "We were like two parallel lines," she said in an interview with Charlie Rose two months before her death. "He was very intellectual, always reading and thinking big thoughts. I learned to have my own life."

But Susie worried about Warren, who was socially and practically inept. "I'm lucky if I can get him to comb his hair," she said. "He needs help." So she introduced him to Astrid Menks, a hostess at a local French restaurant and a friend of Susie's who became his mistress and eventually, after Susie's death, his wife. "I called Astrid. I said, Astrid, will you take Warren, make him some soup, go over there and look after him?" She did. And she stayed. It all happened consensually; the three even sent out Christmas cards together. It worked for all of them. "He appreciates it, and I appreciate it," said Susie. "She's a wonderful person."

Seven years on from Susie's death, Buffett is still coming to terms with it all. When I ask if he regretted being apart from her in her final years, he insists, "We didn't live that separately. We were as connected in the last years of her life, perhaps more connected, than we'd ever been. We had exactly the same view of the world. We just didn't want to go about it in the same way." He tells me about her interview with Rose, the only major one she ever granted, which was done with his encouragement, because he wanted the world to better understand the woman who was most important to him.

Then his cheerful face crumples, and he bursts into tears. "Her death is--it's just terrible. It's the only thing that's really up there," he says, his voice shaking. "I still can't talk about it." It takes several moments, as we sit together at the table overlooking the golf course at the Happy Hollow Club, for Buffett to recover. I put my hand on his arm. Eventually, we move on to an easier subject--his investments.


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