Berkshire Hathaway investor invests in Omaha

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‘I wasn’t put on Earth … to buy more chateaus in the south of France,’ Dick Holland says

Dick Holland didn’t ever expect to be rich rich.

But the Omaha man met Warren Buffett back in the day, when Buffett was just beginning his journey to billionaire status.

Dick could see the two were on the same page, so he and his wife, Mary, invested as much as they could with their friend.

“I want to thank you for making us rich,” he told Buffett years later.

But the Oracle of Omaha said that, no, he didn’t make them rich.

“You did! You never sold.”

From a conversation with Dick Holland:

I wasn’t put on Earth for the purpose of accruing a bunch of money to buy more chateaus in the south of France. I guess I just have a humanitarian attitude about life. Mary felt the same way about everything. We were like twin gods on the subject. My father and mother were both of this ilk. They were very generous. My brothers and sister, too.

I grew up in the Ak-Sar-Ben area of Omaha. My family had a hard time during the Great Depression. My father’s income was cut more than half. But we were better off than most. I had all kinds of friends in my neighborhood who were hungry and had to go down to the county and try to get some food. My best friend’s family went fishing every weekend to get enough to eat.

I have a tremendous interest in poverty itself and I’ve worked on that a lot – forever, it seems like.

I view it as a very special problem in American life.

I’m also a big supporter of the arts. I have a strong belief that building up the arts is one way of building up the joy in people, and at the same time, building up communities. I want the Holland Performing Arts Center to be a place where Omaha can enjoy itself and be exposed to great music and not-so-great music and laughter and speeches and talks.

When I first started supporting it, I didn’t realize how good it would be. But it’s become an icon. It’s doubled or tripled the amount of entertainment in Omaha. I’ve supported the Orpheum and Joslyn. I like the symphony a lot. I just love great symphony. I also love opera. I even got to sing in the opera as a chorister. I took singing lessons.

I have a theory: Omaha used to be a cow town. Then the stockyards all disappeared. They left Omaha. And Omaha for a while was not much. But if you develop the arts, it changes the whole atmosphere. Omaha has changed tremendously since those cow-town days. A lot of sophisticated things go on now.

A lot is going on at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, particularly in terms of research. I’m a science buff, and therefore I help the University of Nebraska Medical Center on its projects. I feel that science can change the world. I’ve helped set up the regenerative medicine there. Dr. Nora Sarvetnick, who’s head of it, is trying to regrow livers and other organs. She’s brilliant, and now she’s got the money to really move ahead.

When we attract top people like her to come to Omaha from larger cities, there is always the question at first: Why come to that town? Then they visit and find out that Omaha is a hotbed for the arts. That whole scene makes Omaha a great city.

Poverty. Science. Education. The arts. That’s where I’ve put almost all of my money. I feel there’s no point in leaving life without having done things for your fellow man.

Dick Holland, a graduate of Omaha University (now UNO), has given much support to his alma mater as well as to UNMC and many worthy causes around his hometown. If you also would like to help enrich the lives of Nebraska students and its people, please consider giving online to the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year, or call the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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