Philanthropist Chuck Feeney dies aged 92
Resource type: News
Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney has died at the age of 92.
Through Atlantic Philanthropies, Feeney gave almost $9 billion to various causes.
Feeney was born in New Jersey in 1931 during the Great Depression of Irish American parents.
He was the first in his family to go to college on a US military scholarship after service in the army.
In the 1950s he started selling duty-free goods to US service personnel in Asia and in 1960 he founded the Duty Free Shoppers group with his college classmate Robert Warren Miller.
By 1982, Feeney had decided his mission was to give his massive wealth away and he founded Atlantic Philanthropies.
The biggest single beneficiary of his generosity was his alma mater Cornell University in New York.
Feeney, who traced his roots to Co Fermanagh, also donated billions to Ireland.
More than $1.3 billion went to projects in the Republic while $570m went to Northern Ireland.
Education was always a priority for Feeney, the University of Limerick received $181m.
Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University and NUI Galway also benefitted from his largesse.
In Northern Ireland, Queens University in Belfast received grants totalling $132m and integrated education was also supported by Atlantic Philanthropies.
He has also given to diverse causes including services for the elderly and children and gay and lesbian equality and free legal advice.
Feeney also funded the Sinn Féin office in Washington after the IRA ceasefire in 1994.
In 2012, all of the universities on the island of Ireland recognised his contribution to education in Ireland by jointly giving him an honorary doctorate of law.
He was also given the Presidential Medal for Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.
However, Feeney said that giving is its own reward and for many years made all of his donations anonymously.
His generosity became public knowledge only because of a business dispute which led to a court case in 1997.
He once explained that he was inspired by US philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who wrote “to die rich is to die disgraced” and also quoted an Irish proverb “there are no pockets in a shroud”.
His giving while living philosophy inspired other billionaires most notably Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to redistribute their wealth.
In a statement, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Feeney’s death.
He said: “Chuck Feeney’s extraordinary generosity, selflessness and his philanthropic legacy have transformed the lives of people on the island of Ireland, north and south, young and old. He was a pioneer in the world of philanthropy.”
In a statement, University of Limerick President Prof Kerstin Mey paid tribute to Feeney.
Prof Mey said: “I want to offer my sympathy on behalf of the institution to his family and to celebrate a truly extraordinary legacy that he leaves behind as an inspiration to all.”
As well as Ireland, Atlantic Philanthropies operated in Australia, Cuba, Bermuda, South Africa, the US and Vietnam.
He is survived by his wife Helga and by his five children.