92 Year Old Billionaire Gives Away Fortune Before He Dies

Source: Noah Berger

Charles Francis “Chuck” Feeney, a man who lived his life as a paradox of wealth and frugality, passed away on October 9, 2023, at the age of 92. Born amidst the Great Depression of 1931, Feeney’s journey from a blue-collar Irish-American neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to becoming one of the most influential philanthropists of our time is a story of audacity, vision, and an unwavering belief in humanity.

Humble Beginnings: The Early Life of Chuck Feeney

Feeney’s humble beginnings in Elizabeth, New Jersey, could hardly predict the trajectory his life would eventually take. His parents were blue-collar Irish Americans. His father was an insurance underwriter, and his mother was a nurse.


The values of hard work, education, and community service were instilled in him from a young age. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and later attended Cornell University on the G.I. Bill, graduating from the School of Hotel Administration in 1956.

Pioneering Duty-Free Shopping: The Rise of DFS

His entrepreneurial journey began with selling duty-free liquor to U.S. naval personnel at Mediterranean ports in the 1950s. This venture evolved into Duty-Free Shoppers (DFS), the world’s largest luxury goods retailer, co-founded with Robert Warren Miller in 1960.

Source Reddit

The business model was simple but revolutionary: sell high-end goods to travelers without the added costs of import taxes or duties. DFS became a hit with international travelers, particularly those from Japan, and quickly grew into a worldwide empire. Later, DFS, which pioneered the concept of duty-free shopping in airports, became an international retail empire, making Feeney a billionaire.

A Billionaire’s Frugality: Living Beyond the Limelight

He maintained a frugal lifestyle, choosing to fly coach instead of first-class, wearing a cheap Casio watch, and shunning the ostentatious displays of wealth common among his billionaire peers.

Source: Lindsay France/Cornell University

This humility extended to his philanthropic efforts as well. He was determined to give away his fortune anonymously, believing that the act of giving was more important than any recognition he might receive.

Secretive Philanthropy: Establishing The Atlantic Philanthropies

However, Feeney’s true passion lay elsewhere: he yearned to make a tangible difference in the world. In 1982, he secretly transferred his 38.75% stake in DFS to his foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, a collection of private foundations.


This move was so secretive that even the beneficiaries of his donations were unaware of their benefactor’s identity. Thus began his remarkable journey of giving away his fortune, all while maintaining a low profile.

“Giving While Living”: Feeney’s Philanthropic Philosophy

Inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s essay “The Gospel of Wealth,” Feeney embraced the “Giving While Living” philosophy. He believed people should use their wealth to better the world during their lifetimes, not after. His giving was transformative and wide-ranging, encompassing education, health care, human rights, and scientific research.

Source: Shutterstock

Feeney’s philanthropic contributions have left an indelible mark globally. He donated over $1 billion to his alma mater, Cornell University, becoming its largest benefactor. He also contributed significantly to the University of California, San Francisco, funding buildings, programs, and research.

Beyond Education: Diverse Contributions to Society

His contributions weren’t just limited to education. Feeney played a pivotal role in the peace process in Northern Ireland by funding reconciliation efforts. He gave generously towards improving public health infrastructure, supporting initiatives like the Global Brain Health Institute and the Center for Effective Public Health in the Americas.


Despite his wealth, Feeney lived a life of remarkable frugality. He was known for his modest lifestyle: flying economy class, wearing a $15 watch, and living in a rented apartment. His actions were driven by a desire to improve lives, not to gain recognition or accumulate material possessions.

A Global Impact: Feeney’s Role in International Affairs

Feeney’s impact was not confined to the United States. He played a pivotal role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, funding reconciliation efforts between Catholic and Protestant communities. He also supported human rights and grassroots community-building projects around the world.

Source: Crispin Rodwell

Feeney’s philosophy has inspired a new generation of philanthropists, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. His commitment to giving while living has challenged traditional notions of wealth, philanthropy, and legacy.

A Legacy Fulfilled: Giving Away Almost All

In 2016, Feeney achieved his goal of donating nearly all his wealth during his lifetime, leaving just $2 million for his retirement. His journey culminated in 2020 when The Atlantic Philanthropies made its final grant, marking the largest charitable foundation ever to spend itself out of existence deliberately.

Source: Shane O’Neill

Feeney passed away on October 9, 2023, leaving behind a powerful legacy. His life story serves as an inspirational tale of how wealth can be used to create positive change. His belief in “Giving While Living” continues to influence philanthropy, challenging traditional notions of wealth and generosity and inspiring others to make a difference in the world.

A Unique Approach to Wealth: Inspiring Future Philanthropists

Charles “Chuck” Feeney’s life story is a testament to the power of giving. In an age characterized by conspicuous consumption and ostentatious wealth, Feeney stood apart, choosing instead to use his fortune as a force for good. His legacy will continue to inspire and challenge us to rethink our relationship with wealth and our responsibility towards society.

Source: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

As we remember Chuck Feeney, we celebrate not just a man’s life but the spirit of giving, the belief in humanity, and the vision of a better world that he embodied.

A Proportional Generosity: Comparing Feeney’s Giving

Feeney’s duty-free shop empire enabled him to amass a fortune of $7.5 billion. However, by 2022, his wealth had reduced to less than $2 million. According to Forbes, individuals such as Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, have donated more than Feeney. Despite this, none of them have given away as significant a proportion of their wealth.

Source: Cornell University File Photo

Feeney encapsulated his mission in a few words, “There’s hardly any sense in postponing donations when considerable good can be accomplished by backing meritorious causes. After all, donating while you’re alive is much more enjoyable than when you’re deceased.”

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Lilly Ravenwood

Written by Lilly Ravenwood

Lilly Ravenwood is a prolific writer whose words have a unique power to captivate and inspire readers. With a talent for crafting highly engaging and viral articles, she has made an indelible mark in the world of digital content. Lilly's journey as a writer began with a passion for storytelling and a deep curiosity about the world around her.

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