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Richard Holland dead; exec who paired Buffett with Munger was 95

Richard Holland, the Nebraska advertising executive who helped link up one of the great partnerships in business history, between Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett and his deputy, Charles Munger, has died. He was 95.

He died on Tuesday at his home in Omaha after a brief illness, according to a news release from Omaha Performing Arts, one of the many local groups he supported.

“He was a wonderful friend and partner for 60 years and an outstanding citizen both in respect to local and national activities,” Buffett said in an emailed statement.

As one of Buffett’s earliest investors, Holland reaped gains that made him and his wife, Mary, among Omaha’s wealthiest people and most generous philanthropists. While their net worth wasn’t public, their private charitable foundation reported assets of $158.8 million in 2014.

“We’re lucky as hell. That’s all there is to it,” Holland said, according to a 1998 article in the Omaha World-Herald, which since 2011 has been owned by Berkshire-Hathaway.

Holland’s precise role in the introduction of Buffett and Munger in 1959 was a matter of some dispute.

According to Buffett biographers Roger Lowenstein and Alice Schroeder, Buffett and Munger first met at a lunch in a private room at the Omaha Club, arranged by mutual acquaintances Neal Davis and his brother-in-law, Lee Seeman.

“The next night, they were reunited at Dick Holland’s, a mutual friend’s, and talked a blue streak,” Lowenstein wrote in “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist” published in 1995.

But Holland, in a self-published 2011 memoir, said he believed the meeting at his house was the first, not the second, between Buffett and Munger.

He wrote that he had invited Munger, a friend from childhood who was in town visiting his mother, to join him, Buffett and some others for dinner.

“When I introduced Charlie and Warren, I’m certain they met as strangers,” Holland wrote, according to the World-Herald. He recalled Buffett and Munger spending the evening talking intensely.

“That’s why I always thought that I introduced them,” Holland wrote. “They sure as hell acted like people who’d never known each other. But some people in Omaha, of course, have other memories. I’m not going to argue. That’s a story. And a story that happened in our living room. I always felt awfully good about it. They were two great people who were going to make a difference in the world.”

Carol Loomis, the Fortune magazine writer and Buffett friend who edited his annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, wrote in “Tap Dancing to Work,” her 2012 collection of articles on Buffett:

“The matchup of Warren Buffett and Charles Munger is regarded as so perfect — so impossible to imagine not happening — that two different Omahans claim they made the introduction.”

“This argument,” she added, “will not be settled here.”

Richard Dean Holland was born in Omaha on July 2, 1921, one of four children of Edward Lewis Holland and his wife, Ellen Dean Holland. His father worked as advertising director for Orchard and Wilhelm Furniture before opening his own agency.

Richard Holland initially charted a different course, studying chemistry at what was then called Omaha University. After serving in the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps during World War II, he returned to school and studied art, graduating in 1948 and going to work at his father’s firm. He helped establish the Omaha-based advertising agency Holland, Dreves, Reilly, retiring in 1985.

Holland met Buffett in the late 1950s, when Holland served on the creditors’ committee of a bankrupt client and Buffett was recommended to manage the bankruptcy workout, according to Lowenstein. Against the advice of members of his family, Holland invested with Buffett in 1961, Schroeder wrote in “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life,” published in 2008.

“I convinced my wife, who had a little money, to put some with Warren,” Holland told Eric Weiner for “What Goes Up,” his 2005 book. “I think about that a lot because if I’d failed at that and given her bad advice, I would’ve been in trouble. Then a little later, I went through the trouble of borrowing on my life insurance to put some of my own money with Warren. Over the years, we gradually put in more because he just kept doing better and better.”

With his wife, the former Mary McArthur, who died in 2006, Holland became a leading patron of cultural institutions in Omaha. The Holland Performing Arts Center opened in 2005. The Holland Computing Center, housing one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, opened in 2007 on the Omaha campus of the University of Nebraska.

A self-described “liberal Democrat in the reddest red state in the union,” Holland also focused on giving to programs to alleviate poverty and to help children.

He said of his wealth in 2013, according to the World-Herald:

“I’m trying to get rid of it. I always tell people I gave up on the idea of buying a chateau in the south of France long ago. That sort of thing doesn’t appeal to me.”

Survivors include three daughters, Barbara Kral, Mary Ann Holland and Nancy Christie, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His son, Richard Jr., who was known as Dean, died in a car accident at age 20.

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