Chuck Feeney lives a very modest life. He no longer owns a house or even a car. It’s a far cry from the days when he was worth $8 billion.
Chuck was born during the Great Depression, a time of belt-tightening poverty for much of the country. Chuck grew up in a tough Irish-American neighborhood in New Jersey. His mother was a nurse whose life mission was to help others. She was a shining example to Chuck.
As a young man in the 1960s, he co-founded a company called Duty Free Shoppers. It made Chuck his fortune.
Yet the trappings of wealth wasn’t Chuck’s style. He was a product of an environment where nobody toots their own horn. He always flew economy class and drank cheap wine in cheap restaurants. Chuck believes that there is nothing more rewarding than giving one’s wealth to people in need.
On November 23rd, 1984, he flew to the Bahamas in secret and gave all his money and assets away. He placed them into a charitable foundation he had founded. It was called Atlantic Philanthropies. Chuck said giving his money away was life-affirming.
To the world at large and even his business partners, Chuck still appeared to be a billionaire. He continued to make investments and purchase properties. Yet all the money he made was secretly pumped back into Atlantic Philanthropies.
For over three decades, Chuck’s money helped transform lives. It revolutionized universities, enriched communities, and improved health care. Chuck carried out his charity work in secrecy.
In 2003, Chuck decided to dissolve Atlantic Philanthropies. He wanted to sell all its assets and spend everything before he died. He called it “Giving while living.”
In late 2016, Chuck gave away his last $7 million. It is but a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of dollars he has given away throughout his life. Yet every penny counts, and Chuck never forgot that.
Today Chuck enjoys a simple life in San Francisco. He lives with his wife, Helga, in a rented apartment. To his neighbors, he is a regular guy. There are no clues to his former billionaire status or his amazing generosity. That’s the way Chuck likes it.
When asked why he gave it all away, Chuck’s response was simple. “It was the right thing to do,” he said.
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