September 15, 2020; Forbes
Eighty-seven-year-old Chuck Feeney has survived Atlantic Philanthropies, and that’s just how he wanted it.
On September 14, 2020, Feeney and his wife signed papers to close the charity after giving away around $8 billion over 40 years.
Feeney is the prototype—as is acknowledged by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and a host of others—of the billionaire dedicated to giving away his full fortune during his lifetime, (in this case, minus a measly $2 million retained to see to his living expenses). He often gave anonymously but ambitiously to address big problems, sometimes ones that were longstanding and entrenched. And he never succumbed to the petty conceit of putting his name on buildings.
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Among Feeney’s largest investments were $3.7 billion given to education and nearly $870 million to fund human rights and social change work, including such stuff as $62 million in grants to abolish the death penalty in the US and $76 million to support grassroots campaigns to pass Obamacare. But among the work for which he is best known are his deep investments in Ireland, where he gave $2 billion during and in the aftermath of the peace process.
While his final grant was made in 2016, the September closing ceremony for Atlantic Philanthropies, at which only Feeney’s wife Helga and Christopher Oechsli, president and chief executive of the foundation, were present in person, has been set for seven years. As might have been expected in these times, it was shared quietly over Zoom.
In the midst of all of this justifiable lauding, we do wish to acknowledge one point: the Forbes article that inspired this one is headlined “The Billionaire who Wanted to Die Broke…Is Now Officially Broke.” It speaks of Feeney living a “monkish existence” in an apartment in San Francisco. And, indeed, the apartment is a rental. But let’s be clear, because we are used to talking about the super-rich as though they live in a different universe from the rest of us. Feeney simply chose not to entirely desert the one into which he was born and in which he was trying to apply his money. Instead, the privilege of directing such massive giving, as someone not known for stepping back and being hands-off, was sufficient.
Congratulations, Mr. Feeney. You saw it through, and we hope people still think your jokes are funny.—Ruth McCambridge