Charles 'Chuck' Feeney, the former billionaire co-founder of airport retail giant Duty Free Shoppers, is now broke after giving away his massive fortune to charity.
The 89-year-old, who lived a frugal life, has donated more than $8 billion to charities, universities and foundations worldwide through his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies.
Feeney had pioneered the idea of Giving While Living, the idea to spending one’s fortune on big charitable donations during one's lifetime instead of creating a foundation upon death. He was famous for his promise that he will give all his money away to charitable causes, and he fulfilled his dream this month. And he insists he couldn’t be happier.
“We learned a lot. We would do some things differently, but I am very satisfied. I feel very good about completing this on my watch,” Feeney told Forbes.
In 2012, Feeney said he set aside $2million for his and his wife’s retirement with plans to donate the rest.
The philanthropist gave all of his money to charities anonymously, and even went to great lengths to keep his donations a secret. For that, he is known as the James Bond of Philanthropy.
Now, his extreme charitable contributions are no longer a secret. His foundation, which was dissolved on September 14, donated for efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland, helped modernise the health care system of Vietnam, and focused on expanding education.
He gave $3.7billion to education – including nearly $1billion to his alma mater Cornell, more than $870million to human rights and social change. He also gave more than $700million in gifts to health causes ranging from a $270million grant to improve public healthcare in Vietnam to a $176million gift to the Global Brain Health Institute at the University of California, San Francisco.
One of his final gifts was a $350million donation to Cornell for the university to build a technology campus on New York City’s Roosevelt Island.
Not one to boast about giving his money away, Feney urged other billionaires to also take the Giving While Living pledge. “Try it, you’ll like it” is his message.
It was his generosity that had influenced Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in launching the Giving Pledge in 2010 – a campaign for the world’s wealthy to give away at least half their fortune before death.
“Chuck created a path for other philanthropists to follow. I remember meeting him before starting the Giving Pledge. He told me we should encourage people not to give just 50 percent but as much as possible during their lifetime. No one is a better example of that than Chuck. Many people talk to me about how he inspired them. It is truly amazing,' Bill Gates said.
Today, the businessman lives in a modest apartment in San Francisco with a plaque that says 'Congratulations to Chuck Feeney for $8billion of philanthropic giving'.