Nearly five years ago, Irish-American billionaire Charles F “Chuck” Feeney promised that by the end of 2016, he was going to hand out the last his fortune.
It was a race: Feeney was then 81, and Atlantic Philanthropies, a collection of private foundations he had started and funded, still had about US$1.5 billion left. …
He had officially emptied his pockets, meeting his aspiration of “giving while living”. Altogether, he had contributed US$8 billion to his philanthropies, which have supported higher education, public health, human rights and scientific research.
“You’re always nervous handling so much money, but we seem to have worked it pretty well,” Feeney, now 85, said last week in a phone interview.
His remaining personal net worth is slightly more than US$2 million. That’s not quite broke, by any standard, but it is a modest amount for a man who controlled thousands of times as much wealth. He and his wife, Helga, now live in a rented apartment in San Francisco.
So he gave away 99.98% of his wealth.
Until he was 75, he travelled only in coach, and carried reading materials in a plastic bag. For many years, when in New York, he had lunch not at the city’s luxury restaurants, but in the homey confines of Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion on East 57th Street, where he ate the burgers.
Sounds a pretty down to earth guy.
Raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Feeney served as a radio operator in the Air Force and attended Cornell University on the GI Bill. In 1960, he and a partner set up a company that sold items like brandy and cigars to travellers in duty-free shops at airports. It became a booming success. Feeney has also been a shrewd investor in technology startups.
What a great story from Air Fore radio operator to billionaire.