My night with Warren

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By Kate O’Dell, Opinion Editor

As a student, you hope for a point in your college career that will inspire you.  For years I’ve been the student who didn’t know what I wanted to do right out of college.  But after spending this weekend among some of the most influential people in Omaha, it became clear where I want to belong.

The Omaha Press Club held its 55th Annual Press Club Show this past Saturday night at the Mid America Center Ballroom.  About 450 guests were in attendance.  I was invited as a journalism student and was offered my seat by an anonymous donor.  And not just any seat in the house, but at the head table with guest of honor Berkshire-Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and his wife.

I arrived at the ballroom during cocktail hour.  I had my hair done by a stylist that day, because I couldn’t trust myself to get ready for something this prestigious on my own.   Guests were milling around tables and bidding in a silent auction.  After making a few rounds and getting myself a glass of white zin, I tracked down my counterpart, Josie Bungert with the Creightonian, in hopes of having a peer who could relate with my feelings: anxious, nervous, excited and just plain lucky to be there.  

After chatting for a few minutes, Josie and I decided to introduce ourselves to the guest of honor.  He was rumored to be in the ballroom, already sitting at his dinner table.  His wife, Astrid, was amidst the crowd, bidding on the different prizes.  

When we walked into the ballroom, it was beautifully decorated with blue and purple lighting.  The room looked as majestic as I felt, as I shook hands with one of the world’s wealthiest men.  Mr. Buffett was extremely welcoming and had been expecting  both Josie and me. He immediately called for the World Herald photographer to take our picture.  First a typical pose: me, Mr. Buffett and an accomplished grin on my face.  And then another, less traditional, where he pulled out his wallet and instructed me to ‘grab onto it’ for the photographer.  This picture will remain forever as evidence of the coolest moment of my life.  

When it came time to sit, I was told that Mr. Buffett wanted Josie and I on either side of him.  VIP seating at its best.  Mr. Buffett had a few small bites, but for the most part, his dinner was untouched.  I didn’t have any questions prepared for him, but I already knew plenty about this extremely impressive man.  

Warren Buffett is a very interesting person.  Beyond the vast wealth he’s made from investing, he is an internationally known philanthropist and  one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve met.  Upon meeting him, you would never guess that he is a billionaire and that 10 days prior he had spent the afternoon at the White House for a luncheon.  He still lives on Farnam street in his $31,500 home and  dresses and speaks just like any other gentleman his age.  But conversation with him  is absolutely enchanting.  The sheer magnitude of his experiences and the wisdom that has come along with it is priceless.  

During dinner I listened carefully to everything he said.  After all, there are people who travel from across the globe to listen to him speak.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the quotes I would need to record, but Mr. Buffett informed me that he would not be saying anything quotable that evening.  This was a false statement from a humble man whose impeccable word choice and extreme clarity comes as if it’s just casual conversation with an old friend.  

So when has Warren Buffett been in a situation when he was at a loss for words?  When he met Princess Diana. “I was in a room with Princess Di,” he said, “and I am expected to carry on a conversation with her.”

When I told him just how shocked I was at how easy it was to talk to him, he said, “It should be easy, but with Princess Di, there wasn’t any starting point.”

Why didn’t Mr. Buffett go into politics?  Simply put, because he didn’t want to.  “I always tell students,” he said, “take the job you would take if you were rich.  And that’s what I’ve got.  To take a job where I have hundreds of thousands of people telling me what to do, I have no interest in it.”  

When he was 11 years old, his father was elected to congress.  He witnessed firsthand how hard it is to be a political figure.  He doesn’t want to live that kind of life.  However, he finds politics fascinating and stays involved.  

He spends his spare time playing cards online, according to him, 12 hours a week.  Bridge is his game of choice and over the years the online gamers have come to identify exactly who they are up against.  His profile lists his age at 103, which he says comes as a surprise to some of his fellow card players.  

The show opened with a song from all of the performers called “News Business Must Do Business.” The Omaha Press Club was recognizing Mr. Buffett as the ‘White Knight’ who saved the Omaha World Herald when Berkshire-Hathaway purchased the publication for $200,000,000.  

The show was a staged telethon where the performers sang different numbers about the breaking news stories of last year.  The flood reviews were particularly entertaining as the costumes were kooky and the faces were animated.  The flood victims, dressed in rain boots and life jackets sang, “Cruising the Missouri on a warm day last July.  The riverside is 10 miles wide with houses floating by.”

Perhaps the best part of the show, however, was Glenn Prettyman impersonating Trev Alberts, Athletic Director of UNO, singing, “D-One’s Too Good to Be True” addressing UNO’s move to Division One sports last year.  He sang, “I love Division 1, Believe me when I say, the Mavericks are the one, and I might even stay.  I love Division 1; Trust me, it’s better this way.”

For dessert we were served chocolate Dilly Bars.  I ate one with the owner of Dairy Queen.  Mr. Buffett’s wife asked him if he finished his Dilly Bar, and I ratted him out for not finishing his dinner before he polished off his dessert.  She then explained to me what his diet consists of.  In their words, he has the diet of a 5-year-old.  Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream for breakfast, but only when it’s on sale.  

After dessert he was whisked away for his part in the show.  

The cherry on top of an impeccable evening was watching Warren Buffett’s performance of “I’m Only a Paper Boy.” He tossed out rolled up newspapers to the tables from the stage.  One paper knocked over a glass of water, dumping it across the linens.  Nobody complained, probably because of the origin of the flying object.  He seemed comfortable on stage and interacted well with the crowd.  He was dressed in a 1930s newsboy outfit, cap and all.  “Without more ads, we had misery and problems galore, but don’t be sad, I own a furniture mart and a jewelry store,” he sang.

For the finale, the rest of the cast joined him on the stage to sing the final number “We are the World, We are the Herald.”

The final lyric, “Thanks to Warren Buffett, who came to save the day, Omaha will keep its local paper for you and me.”  Thanks to Warren Buffett for more than just his purchase.  Thank you for the inspiration to continue on with journalism, it isn’t dying as long as there are passionate people still vying for its survival.  Thank you for sharing that passion with me and for the unforgettable memories that will last me a lifetime.  

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