In June Warren Buffett, the second-richest man in the world, announced he would give away most of his money to the the foundation of the world's richest man, Bill Gates. Buffett's donation to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest philanthropic gift in U.S. history.

Buffett, 75, said that the bulk of the $40 billion he amassed as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, an insurance and investment firm in Omaha, would go to the Gates Foundation, with lesser amounts to Buffett family foundations. The gift will double the assets of the Gates Foundation, worth about $30 billion before Buffett’s gift, and will support projects in world health and improving U.S. libraries and schools.

Buffett told Fortune Magazine that he hopes his deed encourages other rich people thinking about philanthropy "to decide they didn't necessarily have to set up their own foundations but could look around for the best of those that were up and running."

In giving away his wealth now, Buffett changed his original plans to distribute it after his death--in part to honor his late wife, Susan Thompson Buffett. They were not rich when they married in 1952, he said, but "to the extent we did amass wealth, we were totally in sync about what to do with it--and that was to give it back to society." In the 1960s, he and his wife founded the Susan Thomas Buffett Foundation, and his three children each have their own foundations.  

“Certainly neither Susie nor I ever thought we should pass huge amounts of money along to our children,” he said. “Our kids are great. But I would argue that when your kids have all the advantages anyway, in terms of how they grow up and the opportunities they have for education, including what they learn at home--I would say it's neither right nor rational to be flooding them with money.

Dynastic mega-wealth would further tilt the playing field that we ought to be trying instead to level.”

Buffett is nominated for his enormous generosity and concern for those less fortunate, as well as his efforts to "level the playing field" for all.

To learn more about the Gates Foundation, click here. For more on the Susan Thompson Beckett Foundation, click here.

View 2006 nominees' photo gallery.

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