Charles Feeney is the founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the famed airport retailer

By Jason Duaine Hahn
September 16, 2020 03:41 PM
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Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times via Getty

For years, billionaire Charles Feeney had one goal in mind — to give away his massive fortune and live the rest of his life "broke." Now, the 89-year-old has fulfilled his wish.

According to Forbes' Steven Bertoni, Feeney has finished giving more than $8 billion in anonymous donations through his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies. Over the course of four decades, Forbes says Feeney gave $3.7 billion to education and more than $870 million to human rights and social change campaigns.

Feeney — who amassed his fortune after founding the famed airport retailer Duty Free Shoppers — also gave around $62 million in grants to end the death penalty in the United States and $76 million to support the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the outlet reported. Feeney also gave back to his alma mater, Cornell University, and recently gifted them with a $350 million contribution to build a technology campus in New York City, according to Forbes.

With nearly all of his fortune gone, Feeney officially closed down Atlantic Philanthropies this week.

"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.

"My thanks to all who joined us on this journey," he added. "And to those wondering about Giving While Living: Try it, you'll like it."

In a 2012 Forbes article titled "The Billionaire Who Is Trying To Go Broke," Feeney said helping others simply made him happy.

"I concluded that if you hung on to a piece of the action for yourself you'd always be worrying about that piece," said Feeney — who, at the time, said he had only kept $2 million for himself. "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."

As the magazine noted, Feeney did not publicize his specific donations and did his best to keep many of them secret. In one instance, the president of Cornell had to convince the board of trustees that Feeney's anonymous donations weren't "Mafia money."

In 2014, billionaire Warren Buffet honored Feeney during an awards ceremony where he referred to him as a "hero."

Chuck has set an example,” Buffett said while presenting Feeney with that year's Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Philanthropy. "It’s a real honor to talk about a fellow who is my hero and Bill Gates’ hero. He should be everybody’s hero."

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In a video posted to Atlantic Philanthropies' website, Feeney said he felt an obligation to use his wealth for the greater good of others.

"I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes today," he said.

"The world is so full of people who have less than they need," Feeney continued. "Each time you can address their problem, you help them to move forward and think that life can change, and I can change it."