The Man Who Gave It All Away

With the current state of awareness about the unequal distribution of wealth in our society, it’s easy to lump all rich people into a single pigeonhole. It’s easy to think of them as greedy, aloof, elitist, out of touch with the common people, and other negative characterizations. But once in a great while we see someone with wealth who is willing to share a portion of it those less fortunate then themselves

Chuck-Feeney-300x300Probably no one has ever done this with such a giving spirit than Chuck Feeney. He has been described as the James Bond of philanthropy. The past three decades have seen him travel around the globe on a clandestine operation to give away a fortune worth $7.5 billion that was amassed by vending cognac, cigarettes and perfume in his conglomerate of duty-free shops.

He created a foundation known as the Atlantic Philanthropies which had, as of 2012, funneled $6.2 billion into various sectors including health care, education, science, aging and civil rights in Ireland, the United States, Australia, Bermuda, Vietnam and South Africa. Only a few people breathing today have given more than Chuck Feeney, with no one at their wealth level donating so much of their fortune so completely during their lifetime. Not even Bill Gates with his foundation, nor Warren Buffett who seems intent on giving away most of his enormous wealth.

The $1.3 billion remainder of Feeney’s money is scheduled to be spent by 2016, and he wants the foundation shuttered in 2020. The man prefers to conduct his charity operations in secret, catching the train and mixing up with the masses, and not that many do recognize him. This saint of a man took to this mission in 1984, a time characterized with wealth creation and obvious consumption.

Says Feeney, whose current net worth now stands at $2 million, “I concluded that if you hung on to a piece of the action for yourself you’d always be worrying about that piece. People used to ask me how I got my jollies, and I guess I’m happy when what I’m doing is helping people and unhappy when what I’m doing isn’t helping people.”


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