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Do Unto Others

Resource type: News

CBS News: Sunday Morning |

CHARLES OSGOOD, host: Do unto others is a lot more than just words. Particularly for the publicity shy billionaire you’re about to meet. Our Cynthia Bowers makes the introduction.

CYNTHIA BOWERS reporting: On a day when a lot of us will overdose on the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, where conspicuous consumption will be front and center, consider the story of soft-spoken, self-effacing Chuck Feeney, once one of the world’s richest men.

Did you kind of enjoy the money at first?

Mr. CHUCK FEENEY: Well, I think so. I mean everybody enjoys what they have anew. But I think I realized there’s only so much money you can use in the world and early on I was thinking about that and thinking what one might do.

BOWERS: What Chuck Feeney, who earned his fortune with a chain of duty free shops in airports around the world, ended up doing with it is all but unprecedented.

Mr. FEENEY: I thought these things out and hoped that I understood the importance of doing good with money as opposed to spewing it away.

Mr. FEENEY: There were plenty of people around who spewed their money away. I guess I mulled on it like anybody else and tried to figure out what might be the best approach.

BOWERS: By now you’ve figured out that Chuck Feeney is hardly your run of the mill millionaire. No luxurious lifestyle for him. He decided to anonymously give most of his fortune away. He got some help from longtime friend and advisor Harvey Dale.

Mr. HARVEY DALE: He sees clearly that there are things in the world that are in need of help and remediation and he wants to make the world a better place.

BOWERS: And when Forbes magazine listed Feeney as the 23rd wealthiest man in America?

How shocking was it to make this richest list to begin with?

Mr. FEENEY: Well, I mean, I didn’t derive any satisfaction out of it.

Mr. DALE: When Chuck was quote “outed” unquote in 1988 as one of the richest people in the world, he wasn’t, by any means, one of the richest people in the world.

Mr. DALE: Chuck had given away all of his assets. So they were simply wrong.

BOWERS: That’s because four years earlier Feeney had turned over his share of the duty free business to
Atlantic Philanthropies, a charitable foundation. He kept around 5 million to live on and wound up giving away almost $1.6 billion.
You wanted this money to be given anonymously. What was the importance of that?

Mr. FEENEY: Well, you know, it seemed to me it was–being anonymous was less suspect because nobody could say, `Well, you’re just looking for credit for what you’re doing. You’re not really interested in doing it, you’re just looking for the credit.’

BOWERS: But John Anner, executive director of East Meets West, a group whose work in Vietnam is funded by
Atlantic Philanthropies, believes Feeney’s insistence on anonymity goes beyond that.
Mr. JOHN ANNER: It’s not just modesty, although Chuck is a very modest man and a very humble man. When you make a donation, the quality of that donation is influenced by how you make it, not just the size of it or what it’s for.

BOWERS: What are some of the major achievements that are the result of his giving?

Mr. ANNER: Some of the first modern libraries in the country were built by–though funding from
Atlantic Philanthropies.
Mr. ANNER: Some of the first modern, truly modern medical facilities in central Vietnam.

BOWERS: In Ireland, Feeney’s contributions are credited with helping to spur the nation’s economy in the ’90s. And in his adopted hometown, San Francisco, Feeney’s donations are helping foot the bill for a new University of California Medical Research Center. But for all he’s done, there’s one thing Chuck Feeney won’t do, bask in the spotlight. Last year when a book about him was published, he declined most interview requests.

How hard was it for your dad to break the cycle of anonymity and to put himself out there for interviews?

CAROLINE: Well, I think this is the only one. I think it will be the only one ever.

BOWERS: Daughter Caroline is one of five Feeney offspring. She says her father has always made certain his children understood the value of money.

Can you, because your dad refused to, can you tell us the story of the overexcessive phone bill that you had and how your dad handled that?

CAROLINE: Yes. That’s a favorite story. My dad refused to pay the bill and put up a map of the area and circled the nearest phone booths to the apartment and scotch taped, you know, hundreds of dimes to the map and the wall that stayed there for quite a while.

BOWERS: By the time
Atlantic Philanthropies exhausts its endowment in 2020, it will have given away $8 billion, $8 billion. But still, don’t expect to see any buildings with Chuck Feeney’s name on them. At age 76, he’s focused on a richer legacy.
Is one of your stipulations that after you pass away your name still doesn’t go on anything?

Mr. FEENEY: I don’t know how you carry that out, but I would prefer it that way and I think the people who know me would say he would rather have had it that way.


Mr. FEENEY: I don’t know. I mean, look, what’s important is a new hospital, not the name of it.

Related Resources

Global Impact:

United States, Viet Nam


East Meets West Foundation