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Secret Billionaire -- The Chuck Feeney Story

Irish Independent

2 May 2009 - Original Source

Airing Tuesday, RTE1, 10.10pm
By Paul Whitington

In these days of rampant cynicism and endless exposés of rapacious businessmen and dodgy bankers, the story of Chuck Feeney is enough to renew your faith in human nature.

An Irish-American born in New Jersey during the Great Depression, Feeney became a billionaire many times over in the Sixties and Seventies when he co-founded the Duty Free Shoppers Group. But instead of indulging himself in the usual nonsense, Feeney found that his vast wealth sat uneasily with him, and he has spent the past 25 years or so devising ways to give it away. What's more, he's done so anonymously. Until very recently, Feeney's backing of Atlantic Philanthropies has been a secret, and in this exclusive documentary, he talks for the first time ever about his remarkable life.

For the past 30 years, Atlantic Philanthropies has donated vast sums to universities, research institutions, social programmes, community enterprises and charities across the globe, but Ireland has benefited from his generosity more than most -- to the tune of more than $1.2bn.

Feeney worked tirelessly behind the scenes to move the Peace Process forward and to fund reconciliation and regeneration projects in the North; in the south, he spearheaded the drive to make Ireland a leading research and knowledge-based economy and, to date, has donated more than $750m to Irish universities. Until 1997, all of this was done on one condition: that Feeney's name never be disclosed, the beneficiaries sworn to secrecy about the donor's identity.

In many ways, Feeney is at odds with the modern world of celebrity and mass communication. One of the wealthiest and best-connected people on the planet, he lives a low-profil