He was among the rare few people who succeeded in accumulating wealth and then chose to lead a modest life, ultimately giving away all of his possessions.
Many people acquire great wealth, but there a quite a few of them like Charles Francis Feeney, who ended up donating every last bit of the fortune he had earned in his lifetime. Feeney, the founding father of duty-free shops around the world and a skilled investor in tech start-ups, passed away at the age of 92 on October 9, 2023, per The New York Times. However, before leaving this world and dying peacefully in his San Francisco home, he donated all his $8 billion worth of fortune to charity.
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The Atlantic Philanthropies, a group of foundations started and funded by Feeney since the early 1980s, first broke the news to the public on their website. Despite having all the wealth, Feeney lived his last days in a modest rented apartment. Feeney made headlines back in 2016 when he donated $7 million to his alma mater, Cornell University. It was for the student community service work. With this donation, Feeney officially cleared out the Atlantic Philanthropies' accounts, fulfilling his pledge to give away all his wealth before dying.
According to the outlet, the former billionaire retained only $2 million for himself after living a humble life while he worked to expand his business for six decades. "Chuck Feeney is a remarkable role model and the ultimate example of giving while living," co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates told Forbes in 2012. Warren Buffett handed over a Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award to Feeney in 2014 and called him "my hero and Bill Gates's hero—he should be everybody's hero," per Forbes. Unlike other philanthropists, Feeney chose to anonymously donate to medical institutions, universities, human rights groups and many more.
The Atlantic Institute is deeply saddened by the death of the founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies, Charles Chuck Feeney. We are thankful for his vision, immense generosity and his lasting legacy. Read our tribute: https://t.co/WhmvUIYR80 pic.twitter.com/waDz0JuGL6— Atlantic Fellows (@atlanticfellows) October 9, 2023
His charity work was aimed at improving people's lives in the United States, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia, Israel and Jordan, to name a few. Being an Irish-American, he was more open about his charity work in Northern Ireland, which he used to visit frequently. He was also invited to join leaders of the United States, Britain and Ireland at the initiation of a power-sharing government in Belfast in 2007. He used to make most of his donations to institutions through cashier's cheques and the beneficiaries were informed that the benefactor happens to be a generous person who wished to remain anonymous.
Feeney had a difficult childhood as he was raised in a working-class household that struggled during the Great Depression. He went on to serve in the Air Force, then studied hotel management and entered the duty-free shopping business. By the 1980s, he had invested about $35 million into the hotel business, land deals, retail shops, clothing companies and tech start-ups. However, his affluent life was not really doing much to bring him peace. "He was beginning to have doubts about his right to have so much money," Conor O'Clery wrote in a biography of Mr. Feeney, "The Billionaire Who Wasn't."
He left a wonderful legacy.— fola adeleke (@foladeleke) October 9, 2023
May his kind soul rest in peace, and his vision for a more equitable and inclusive world live on 🙏🤍🕊️— Harsha Somaroo (@SHA_ZAR) October 9, 2023
He impacted on so so many lives and set a high standard for philanthropy. An amazing man— Fidelma Carolan (@fid1dec) October 9, 2023
Feeney turned his extravagant lifestyle around and started living humbly. "All Feeney's instincts, instilled in him by the example of his parents, by the sharing culture of his blue-collar upbringing in New Jersey, by his desire not to distance himself from his boyhood neighbors and friends, and by his own innate kindness and concern for others, undoubtedly shaped his decision," O'Clery further wrote.
His anonymity as a humanitarian benefaction was finally disclosed in 1997 after Feeney and a partner sold their interest in Duty-Free Shoppers to Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. The legal filings disclosed that the value of his share at $1.5 billion belonged to a philanthropist residing in Bermuda who has been making anonymous donations for the past 15 years. It was actually Feeney himself. The world will always remember a man like him and the generosity he showed during his lifetime by helping those who are in need.