Legacies include people

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
September 9, 2012

In the late 1990s, Warren Buffett began a series of meetings with college students, offering them the opportunity to ask him almost anything. He continues the meetings today. A small group of University of Tennessee finance students was among the first, if not the original, beneficiaries of these valuable mentoring sessions.

How valuable is a visit with Buffett? In June an anonymous bidder paid $3.4 million for the right to have lunch with the Oracle of Omaha. The beneficiary of the auction was Glide, a San Francisco anti-poverty organization. These Buffett auction lunches have raised more than$11 million for Glide.

In his own time, and for a generation or two after, Warren Buffett’s legacy will be Berkshire Hathaway and his title of once having been the richest man in the world. There are also probably some buildings named after him somewhere.

The only lasting legacy Buffett will leave, however, is the people whose lives he touches. That includes his family, employees and those thousands of college students with whom he meets.

The only real legacy any of us leaves is, like Buffett’s student meetings, the people whose lives we touch and the generations that evolve from those.

I am regularly reminded about legacies when I think back to an estate planning conference at which I spoke in the 1990s. The other two speakers were an insurance salesman and a well-known Knoxville estate planning attorney. The lawyer and insurance salesman made the argument that “God wants people to leave an inheritance for their children.” And if you did not have the accumulated assets to leave such a legacy, you had a religious obligation to your children to fund it with life insurance.

I pray to God that groups of college students looking for wisdom are not visiting with either of these gentlemen.

I also thought about legacies quite a bit this week as readers shared their reactions to my comments a week ago regarding Walter P. Taylor. I even heard from Taylor’s granddaughter, Mitzi Taylor Hendrich.

Walter Pickens Taylor was one of the original four commissioners of the newly established Knoxville Housing Authority (KHA), appointed by Mayor James W. Elmore in 1936. The housing project was built in 1967. The KHA lasted 40 years, until it became the Knoxville Community Development Corporation in 1976. The Walter P. Taylor housing project lasted 45 years. Taylor owned the Woods and Taylor clothing store on Gay Street, along with serving as the first president of the Knoxville Board of Commerce.

Taylor was 32 years old when his Highland Avenue neighbor gave birth to a future writer, James Agee.

While visiting with former acquaintances and a family member of Walter P. Taylor, it was obvious to me that a demolished housing project was not his legacy, nor was a bank account funded with the proceeds from a large insurance policy.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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