Dr Charles F. Feeney
Image of Dr Charles F. Feeney

Chuck Feeney was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a blue-collar Irish-American family during the Depression. After service in the Korean War, he co-founded the Duty Free Shoppers, the world’s largest duty-free retail chain. Feeney became a billionaire many times over in the 60s and 70s. However, the wealth did not sit easily with him and in the early 80s, he began to devise a plan to use the money he’d made to help others. He founded The Atlantic Philanthropies, an astounding charitable enterprise, the sole aim of which was to use his fortune to make lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. For the past 30 years, the organisation 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 over 1.2bn dollars. He worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help 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 over $750m to Irish universities alone. Until 1997, all of this was done on one condition: that Feeney’s name never be disclosed, and the beneficiaries were sworn to secrecy about the identity of the donor. Feeney is an anathema in the modern world of celebrity and mass communication: one of the wealthiest and best-connected people on the planet, he lives a low-profile, low-cost existence and has rejected the international jet-set lifestyle his own business partners enjoy. He wears a $15 dollar watch, eats in diners and travels economy class. He covers his face at press events, refuses to be interviewed or photographed and, until very recently, has refused to allow his name to be mentioned in connection with any of the projects he has funded. Only in 1997 when he sold his duty free interests, was he revealed as one of the greatest and most mysterious American philanthropists in modern times. After going “underground” again, he emerged in 2005 to cooperate on a biography promoting giving while living. Now in his mid-seventies, Feeney is determined his foundation should spend down the remaining $3 billion in his lifetime.