Franklin Otis Booth Jr., a former Los Angeles Times executive and businessman whose early investment in a venture headed by a young and then little-known Warren E. Buffett later earned him a fortune and a title as one of the richest men in the nation, has died. He was 84.
Booth, who was also a philanthropist and a great-grandson of Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, founder of The Times, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles from complications of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, his family announced.
During the 1950s, Booth was responsible for overseeing the printing of the newspaper. In 1968 he was named corporate vice president of Times Mirror Corp. in charge of forest products and commercial printing.
Booth’s tenure at The Times overlapped with that of his second cousin and close friend, Otis Chandler, the famed publisher who held the reins of the paper from 1960 to 1980. The cousins shared a passion for the outdoors; Booth, also known as Otis, surfed, fished and hunted.
During his early years at The Times, Booth also began investing in real estate with his friend Charles Munger, now vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The friends worked on two real estate projects in Pasadena and quadrupled their money, Munger said Monday in an interview with The Times.
It was Munger who introduced Booth to Buffett in 1963 -- before Buffett’s business acumen had earned him billions.
“Otis went to Omaha, met Warren, and made his own decision,” Munger said. “Otis made all his own decisions, all his life, and made them very well. He had a good temperament for an investor. He wasn’t disturbed horribly by the difficult periods.”
Booth’s early decision to invest with Buffett left him with shares in Berkshire Hathaway, where Buffett is now chairman. With a 1.4% stake in the company, Booth was a billionaire and one of the largest investors in the company, according to a 1998 article in Forbes magazine.
In 1972 Booth retired from The Times and operated several businesses before trying his hand at citrus farming and raising livestock. Booth Ranches in the San Joaquin Valley consists of 9,000 acres of orange groves, two citrus packinghouses and a cattle ranch. Booth’s brand name is Otis Orchards.
“It’s the best place in the world for growing navel oranges,” Booth was quoted as saying on Forbes.com, which placed him at No. 204 on its 2007 list of the richest Americans.
Booth was born Sept. 28, 1923, in Pasadena, where he also spent his youth. By age 16 he was a student at the California Institute of Technology. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1944 and then served two years in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
After his discharge he earned an MBA and a graduate degree in engineering in 1948, both from Stanford University.
Over the years, Booth donated to many causes including the Harvard-Westlake School and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
His survivors include his third wife; a son and a stepson, three daughters and a stepdaughter, and 15 grandchildren.
A private funeral will be held Thursday.
Memorial donations may be sent to: Project ALS, 900 Broadway, Suite 901, New York, NY, 10003; or made online at projectals.org.