Good People Doing Good Things – Charles Feeney

The past several weeks, this weekly post has featured average, everyday people doing good things for others, and really, that is perhaps the best sort of philanthropy there is.  It motivates us all, reminds us that we don’t need to be wealthy or powerful to do good things, to help make the world just a little bit better.  Giving, after all, begins in our own backyard. Today, however, I want to focus on a man who is, by most standards, wealthy, but his philanthropy far exceeds his own personal wealth.  His name is Charles Francis Feeney, but his friends call him Chuck.

Feeney-1While others may have given more in their lifetimes, notably George Soros, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet, there are some things about Chuck Feeney’s generosity that stand above the rest.  First, often referred to as the James Bond of philanthropy, Feeney does not toot his own horn, and in fact gave away his fortune in secret for many years, until a business dispute resulted in his identity being revealed in 1997.

Second, he is a frugal man, living in a rented apartment, and flies in the economy section. He wears a rubber Casio watch because he says it keeps time just as well as a Rolex. A January article by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times says, “Until he was 75, he traveled only in coach, and carried reading materials in a plastic bag. For many years, when in New York, he had lunch not at the city’s luxury restaurants, but in the homey confines of Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion on East 57th Street, where he ate the burgers.”

dollar-2Third, unlike other well-known philanthropists who have given away between 6% – 50% of their wealth, Mr. Feeney has given away his entire fortune many times over.  He has, it is estimated, given away more than $8 billion, and his current net worth is between $1 – $2 million.  An article in Business Insider that ranks the 20 top philanthropists along with what they refer to as a ‘generosity index’, calculates that Chuck Feeney has given away 420,000% of his money!  Let that one sink in for a minute.  Four-hundred and twenty-thousand percent.

Feeney is now 85 years old and just last year made what will likely be his final donation, $7 million to Cornell University, to support students doing community service work. The bulk of his donations have supported higher education, public health, human rights and scientific research.

During the early 1990s, Mr. Feeney met secretly with paramilitary forces in Belfast, Northern Ireland, urging them to drop armed guerrilla conflict and promising financial support if they embraced electoral politics. He paid to create a public health system in Vietnam, and to provide access to antiretroviral treatment for AIDS in southern Africa. He has supported education, science, health care, aging and civil rights in the U.S., Australia, Vietnam, Bermuda, South Africa and Ireland.

Operation Smile, a charity that corrects cleft palates in children from poor nations, is a classic Feeney cause: a one-time $250 investment to cover the cost of a simple surgery that will markedly improve every day of the patient’s life. He’s given $19.5 million there.


Chuck Feeney & Bill Gates

Even other philanthropists praise Mr. Feeney.  Bill Gates, in an interview with Forbes said, “Chuck Feeney is a remarkable role model, and the ultimate example of giving while living.” Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, credit Feeney as a major inspiration for both the $30 billion-strong Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Giving Pledge, which has enlisted more than 90 of the world’s richest to grant half their wealth to charity.

Feeney-bioIn 2007, fellow Irishman Conor O’Clery wrote a biography of Chuck Feeney, titled, The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing. According to Forbes, George Clooney is considering adapting Feeney’s story for the silver screen. When asked who should portray him in the movie, Feeney responded, “Probably Danny DeVito.” (Note: Chuck Feeney is not very tall  🙂  )

A few of my favourite Feeney quotes:

“People who have money have an obligation. I wouldn’t say I’m entitled to tell them what to do with it but to use it wisely.”

“People used to ask me how I got my jollies, and I guess I’m happy when what I’m doing is helping people and unhappy when what I’m doing isn’t helping people.”

“You can only wear one pair of pants at a time.”

“I don’t dislike money, but there’s only so much money you can use.”

“I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living – to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition.”

“If you want to give it away, think about giving now. It’s a lot more fun than when you’re dead.”

The above-referenced New York Times article makes some comparisons between the philanthropy of Feeney and that of Donald Trump, and comes to the conclusion that they are mirror images, or exact opposites.  It is well worth the read!  Links to two other good articles about this man are listed below.  The more I read, the more I came to admire Chuck Feeney …. this is the kind of person the world needs more of today.  Hats off to you, Charles Feeney!  doffing-hat

Forbes article 

The Atlantic Philanthropies

38 thoughts on “Good People Doing Good Things – Charles Feeney

    • I did read your post … you write very well and you captured my heart. I am following your blog now and hope to see more from you. I cannot even begin to imagine what your life is like, and I admire you for your perseverance in the face of so much adversity. I wish I had more than words to offer you. 😥

      Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed he is a hero! Why oh why can’t more people be like him? Well, let me re-phrase that, since there are a lot of us who, as Hugh said, talk the talk, but cannot walk the walk. So, the question really is, why can’t more people who have the means to do so, be more like Mr. Feeney? Thanks for the re-blog!!!

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        • Or perhaps having too much of something makes one greedy? And let’s face it … NOBODY in the world actually NEEDS to have billions of dollars to live comfortably. I wonder how people hoarding billions sleep at night, knowing there are people without food to eat or a warm place to sleep … people they could help, but simply choose not to? I also wonder why I am spending time & emotion pondering this, when it is the way things have always been and will always be. But still, it is uplifting when I find people who ARE using their wealth for good causes.

          Liked by 1 person

            • But … but … does anybody really know or care now? I surely don’t … the only time they come onto my radar is when they actually use all those dollars to help somebody else, and that is the exception rather than the norm. Ah, but I forgot … my humble little opinion is not the one that matters. 🙂 I love my life and am soooooooo glad I wasn’t born into wealth! I like having to choose between a book or a 6-pack of new socks! 😀

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                    • I shall have to try the food bags, as both my beloved sneakers have large toe-holes 🙂 Actually, I could easily get new ones, but I get attached to shoes, get them broken in just right, and always hate to have to train a new pair! 😀 Thatcher days, eh? 😀 Our lament at some point in the future will be, “ahh … Trump days …” 🙂

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                    • Ah yes … there is very little that cannot be fixed with duct tape! I even repaired my furnace a few months ago with duct tape … it had cute little penguins on it! 😀

                      I hope our ‘days’ do not last that long, else our current system of government will not survive. I’m not sure it will survive even 4 years, let alone 18! But then, I still firmly believe Trump is digging his own grave … I just want to go help him dig so it can be done faster!

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                    • Cute penguins duct tape! I have to have some of that…will check on ‘The Net’😉
                      President Trump….some folk learn, some folk forge on, but I do not think he’s wired for handling a president’s role, after all being a CEO is not the right experience.

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                    • link to cute penguins duct tape … 😀

                      No, being a CEO is not what running a government “by the people, of the people, and for the people” is about. Two almost opposite ends of the spectrum. But there are still an awful lot of people here who think that being “successful” in business qualifies one to run a country.

                      And while on the topic of successful … many an analyst have said that Trump could have much more wealth now if he had wisely invested the money his dear daddy gave him than he does having tried and failed at so many ventures. In truth, his failures outweigh his successes! And I don’t even address his lack of a heart!!!!

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                    • Yea! I found it for sale in the UK, and flower tape too, gotta have some! Thanks for the link Jill.
                      Yeh too many people bought into the Book of Tom Clancy; I started reading them for the adventure then suddenly found there were a number of tall, handsome, middle-aged, responsible, firm but fair CEOs being brought in to help a situation….

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                    • I’m so glad you found the duct tape! Repairs are so much more fun with cute penguin duct tape! We also have Hello Kitty duct tape 🙂

                      I enjoy Clancy … his books are a fun read. But fiction and reality are two different things. Some people seem unable to separate the two. Those are the same ones who will quote a Facebook meme or an episode of Duck Dynasty as if it were news from The Intellectualist or World Affairs Journal.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I HAVE, in fact, asked people that! I am outspoken (in case you haven’t noticed that from my posts) and have little time or patience for ignorance. This may explain why I have lost some large number of Facebook ‘friends’ in the past year or so. But you know … I think that if they are so offended by my ‘liberalism’ and honesty, by my trying to argue using those silly things called ‘facts’ … then perhaps they weren’t such great friends after all. On the flip side, I have made some valuable, treasured friends here on my blog in the last year.

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  1. What a remarkable man! I especially like this comment: “People who have money have an obligation. I wouldn’t say I’m entitled to tell them what to do with it but to use it wisely.” I have said the same thing, but I talk the talk and cannot walk the walk that this man does. He is an inspiration to us all and a reminder that there are people out there who are quietly doing great good! Thanks for the wonderful post! I will reblog!

    Liked by 1 person

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