In Memory of a Friend... Become a Complete Fool
He pulled up in his shiny Porsche, jumped out with a charismatic smile and a friendly handshake. Ben Keaton had Hollywood good looks, boyish charm but with an old wise man's investment and business sense. Picture a 30-year-old Robert Redford with the razor sharp mind of a Charlie Munger. That's how I will always remember him.
Living in Orlando at the time, he attended a speech I gave about 5 years ago to a group of semi-interested conventioneers. He sat attentive, near the front of the room. To a very inexperienced speaker, Ben nodded encouragement and flashed a big wide grin. He applauded loud enough to fill the room.
Later we would sit in the hotel lobby and chatted like old friends, even though we had just met in person for the first time. Actually we became acquainted on this Internet discussion board and shared a mutual admiration for Warren Buffett. He told me that he had never met a person like Warren and was amazed at what he had accomplished. He told me that he had just mailed a birthday gift to Warren, his hero.
Like Charlie, seems like he was educated as an attorney but didn't practice law. A successful and skilled businessman but no longer was active in business. He understood stocks, investments, and people.
In person, he was warm and neighborly, on the anonymous Internet discussion boards; he did not suffer fools gladly. He told you in no uncertain terms what he thought. He was right most of the time and if you were smart, you would eventually find that out.
Ben pointed out that Warren had purchased the Washington Post for $11 million in 1973 and today the annual dividend pays him back $9 million, nearly the purchase price. And he went on to say that Berkshire's Washington Post investment was now worth in excess of $1 billion.
He was a gifted private investor and advised only his immediate family, including his in laws. He accepted no clients and offered advice for free. Ben suggested a stock during our first meeting that paid a 15 percent annual dividend and would go on to gain 100 percent in 12 months. Unfortunately I didn't listen to his advice and missed this investment tip. I listened very carefully after that.
Later that year, to my surprise and delight, I received a box of Sees chocolates in the mail as a Christmas present from him. You see Ben was a very generous man. I asked him why and he said that he appreciated our friendship and that I had helped him with his understanding of Berkshire and Buffett. I thanked him and thought to myself that I should be giving him my gratitude instead.
He moved from downtown Orlando to Southern California driving his wife and his shiny Porsche across the country. He loved that road trip, any excuse to drive that shiny Porsche. Although transplanted to California, he was Miami Hurricane alum and a vocal supporter. He loved it when Miami beat a California team in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
Settling outside San Diego, we met in LA at the Sees Chocolate factory for a tour before Charlie Munger's Wesco Financial annual meeting. He brought his beautiful wife, Charlotte who helped form the perfect couple. She is a strikingly beautiful model who sat by Ben's side and knitted while Charlie lectured and Ben and rest of us listened.
A year later I would see Ben again in Pasadena for the Wesco annual meeting. He sat behind me and knowing that I had a sweet tooth, tapped me on the shoulder and shared a piece of his chocolate chip cookie. Ben was always sharing.
An occasional email but mostly me reading his posts on the Internet was the extent of our friendship. He loved his wife. He loved his daughter. He loved investing. He loved sharing his investment knowledge. He befriended smart people. He loved to rant and didn't tolerate uneducated Internet posts. And he died doing what he loved...driving his shiny Porsche.
Ben Keaton made an impact and a difference in his short life. He shared. He loved and was loved. He will be missed.
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In Memory of a Friend...
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