Billionaire Chuck Feeney gives it all away

By Laurie Bennett

March 9, 2008 at 11:10am

Little-known philanthropist Chuck Feeney has patterned his life on an Irish proverb: “There are no pockets in a shroud.”

As Margot Roosevelt of the Los Angeles Times reported in a rare profile yesterday, Feeney plans to give away $8 billion in the next 8 years.

Feeney, co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, which was bought by Bernard Arnault in 1997, put most of his fortune into Atlantic Philanthropies eight years ago. He gave the foundation leadership an usual mission: Spend every dollar by 2016.

Roosevelt reports that the fund has paid out $8 billion so far. Beneficiaries of Feeney’s largesse include Cornell University, his alma mater; and universities throughout Ireland, home of his ancestors.

His foundation focuses on four major issues: aging, disadvantaged youth, population health and human rights. Most of the grant dollars have gone to projects in the U.S. and Ireland, but the foundation has also funded programs in Vietnam, South Africa, Australia and the UK.

For years, Feeney, now 76, kept his philanthropic activities secret. The existence and scope of Atlantic Philanthropies became public only after the sale of his company.

In recent months, his personal involvement has become more widely known because of the publication of a biography, The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune, by Irish journalist Conor O’Clery.

Feeney sees an upside to going public, saying he wants to set an example for other moguls who are sitting on mounds of cash. His new mission, he told the Times, is to show other billionaires the merits of “giving while living.”

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  • #1.   Eileen 05.08.2009

    Chuck Feeney is doing wonderful work,the colleges and Universitys of Ireland,can never thank him enough. However not all young people are fortunate enough to get the benefit of college or University,if i could get my hands on even 500.000 euro of his money,i could make a worthwhile difference for many young people who grew up in the difficult stressful border areas.They have been forgotten by all involved in the peace programmes and Ireland fund grants.

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