Obama to award Warren Buffett Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will name billionaire Warren Buffett one of fifteen winners of the 2010 Medal of Freedom, a White House official said on Wednesday.

Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors who has donated a vast chunk of his fortune to charity, will receive the medal at a White House ceremony early next year. The award is the highest U.S. civilian honor.

Chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, Buffett unexpectedly announced in 2006 that he would give away the bulk of his fortune, worth about $40 billion, mostly to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Buffett is one of Obama’s closest defenders in the business community and the president has sought his counsel dating back to the 2008 presidential campaign and since.

In a letter published on Wednesday by the New York Times, Buffett praised Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, former President George W. Bush and other government officials for leading efforts to bail out the economy during the financial crisis two years ago.

He said the government’s decision to buy up assets many investors considered to be toxic had helped pull back the economy from the brink of collapse.

Buffett said that all corporate America’s dominoes were lined up and were ready to topple in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in September 2008.

“My own company, Berkshire Hathaway, might have been the last to fall, but that distinction provided little solace,” Buffett, nicknamed the Oracle of Omaha, said.

The Medal of Freedom is given to people deemed to have made particularly significant contributions to U.S. security, peace generally, or in cultural or other significant areas.

Recipients of the 2009 award included British physicist Stephen Hawking, Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the first woman to ever sit on the United States Supreme Court, tennis star Billie Jean King and actor Sydney Poitier.

Reporting by Alister Bull, editing by Anthony Boadle and Philip Barbara