Charles “Chuck” Feeney, the renowned retail entrepreneur and philanthropist, has peacefully passed away at the age of 92 in San Francisco. He leaves behind an indelible legacy of generosity, having donated over $8 billion to charitable causes across the globe.
Born during the Great Depression in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Irish-American parents, Charles Feeney’s journey from humble beginnings to a multibillion-dollar fortune is a remarkable tale of selflessness and compassion.
In 1960, he co-founded Duty Free Shoppers (DFS), a chain of duty-free airport stores specializing in luxury goods, alongside a fellow Cornell University classmate. This endeavor laid the foundation for his tremendous wealth. In 1996, Feeney sold his shares in DFS to the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, which now owns a majority stake in the retailer. DFS has flourished with over 850 boutiques spanning continents.
What truly set Charles Feeney apart was his unwavering commitment to the principle of “Giving While Living.” He firmly believed that making a difference in the world was best achieved during one’s lifetime. In his own words, “It’s much more fun to give while you are alive than to give when you are dead.”
In 1982, Feeney established the Atlantic Philanthropies and, two years later, transferred all of his business assets to the foundation. Remarkably, in 2020, the foundation closed its doors after successfully disbursing all of its funds to various charitable endeavors. These grants, which totaled $8 billion, were distributed anonymously and supported a wide range of causes, including education, healthcare, human rights, and infrastructure development.
Did you know that star cook and Food Network star Michael Chiarello died on October 6, 2023, after being taken to the hospital? He was 61 years old. Chiarello was famous for Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Chopped, and Next Iron Chef:
Feeney’s philanthropy reached far and wide. It contributed to vital infrastructure projects in Vietnam, advanced the missions of universities in Ireland, and fueled research in medical centers striving to find cures for cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Despite his immense wealth, Charles Feeney chose to live modestly. He eschewed the trappings of affluence, opting not to own a car or a home. Instead, he resided in a rented apartment in San Francisco, reflecting his dedication to channeling his resources toward charitable purposes.
Cornell University, to which Feeney referred to as the “third founder,” benefitted immensely from his philanthropy. Since 1982, he donated nearly $1 billion to the university, enabling countless students to pursue their educational dreams.
In 2011, Feeney signed the “Giving Pledge,” championed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, committing to dedicate his wealth to philanthropic endeavors. His pledge letter eloquently stated, “I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living — to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition.”
Charles Feeney’s remarkable journey from rags to riches, and his decision to give it all away for the betterment of humanity, has left an indelible mark. He will be remembered not only for his extraordinary generosity but also for his unwavering belief in the power of philanthropy to change the world for the better.
As the world mourns the loss of this exceptional philanthropist, his legacy of giving and his commitment to making the world a better place will continue to inspire generations to come. Charles Feeney’s life is a testament to the idea that one person, armed with compassion and determination, can indeed change the world.