There Are No Pockets In A Shroud

Resource type: News

The Chattanoogan |

By Roy Exum

If you were to go to Da Nang General Hospital in Vietnam today, you would be startled over the fact it is painted green a brilliant shamrock green to be more precise in a veiled effort to thank the Irish-American who built it.
You see, one stipulation on the hundreds of millions that were donated was that no one should ever know his name, and the grateful Vietnamese, perplexed but wanting to recognize the man’s largesse, came up with the novel idea to express their thanksgiving.
There are now several other stories like that one because Chuck Feeney, a humble working-class genius from New Jersey, is now working harder than he ever has in the 76 years he has been on earth because his goal is to give away his colossal fortune before he dies.
At one time, we are told in today’s Los Angeles Times, Feeney was worth $8 billion. By zealously listening and studying and working hard, all with due diligence and great care, he has now given away half of it, and his plan is to be rid of his pile by the year 2016. But there is one distinct catch don’t thank him for it and, for goodness sake, don’t put a plaque on the wall with his name on it.
At a time when most in the world seek the plaudits of others and take a look at me stance at philanthropy, the reclusive Feeney wants none of that. He is more comfortable taking a bus rather than a taxi. He prefers grilled-cheese and tomato sandwiches over five-star meals. He is a humble man who lives in a one-bedroom apartment and even uses a plastic bag as a briefcase, albeit he must change the flimsy bags ever so often.
After accumulating enough wealth to become one of the richest men in the world with his duty-free shopping empire, he’s now tired of his money and his quest is to use his good fortune in a way it will benefit other working-class Joes the world over. And, he has promised, I’m not going to die until I spend it.
Through his company, Atlantic Philanthropies, Feeney has done such things as give $125 million for a cardiovascular complex in San Francisco and another $60 million to a biomedical center at Stanford. His biggest effort has been at Cornell, where he once sold sandwiches to fraternity boys while attending there.
To date, Feeney has given $558 million to the Ithaca, N.Y. university but you’d never know it unless you were an insider just like his other donations, every penny has been given anonymously.
As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t be even reading this story, which was gleaned from today’s piece so wonderfully written by Margot Roosevelt in the LA Times, if Feeney hadn’t given a very rare interview with the hope of encouraging other wealthy people to do the same.
He claims there is a great delight to be found in giving while living and can cite one example after another where millions of others less fortunate will benefit for years beyond. It doesn’t matter who put the building up. The important thing is that it happens.
Just ask Ireland. With an ancestry that spans the Atlantic, Feeney got involved in bolstering that country’s universities to the point he then offered the government $125 million if they would match it for post-graduate research. Soon the country’s top students weren’t going elsewhere and the result was that the country began to thrive.
He has fought hard to quell the feelings between the British and the Irish Republican Army. The only way you are going to solve things with your friends or enemies is to sit down and talk to them. It didn’t seem right to me that Irish people were killing Irish people.
As you read this, Chuck Feeney has given his parents’ homeland over $1 billion. Anonymously.
He believes America’s most wealthy might consider doing the same. In a recent book by former president Bill Clinton called Giving, there is a statistic that if the top 14,400 taxpayers gave just one-third of their income, it would total $61 billion.
Those people wouldn’t miss it, said Feeney. People traditionally collect money. I guess there is an attraction to being known as a wealthy person. It is not my role in life to tell them what they should be doing … I’m just convinced if people gave money to things they’ve identified as being in the public interest, they would get great satisfaction out of it.
Feeney knows that better than most – his own experience heightened even more since he will not allow his name to be made public. He doesn’t want the limelight, the talk shows, the black-tie affairs. He’s too busy for all that.
He’s still got over $4 billion to give away and time’s a-wasteing. Ask him and he’ll just recite an old Gaelic proverb There are no pockets in a shroud.

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