Everyday Heroes

This Quiet Philanthropist Has Given Away The Last Of His $7.5 Billion Fortune

And he hasn't asked for an ounce of credit...

Charles F. Feeney has given away $7.5 billion. That’s $7.5 b-i-l-l-i-o-n, with a b. And, unlike other billionaires who grace our airwaves and have put their names on the sides of countless buildings, most of us have never heard of Feeney.

But, how is this possible? In a world where it sometimes seems like the more money you have, the louder your voice, Charles F. Feeney has quietly and in his own way changed the world.

Feeney, a self-made entrepreneur, started from humble beginnings in New Jersey. He served as a radio operator for the U.S. Air Force, enabling him to attend Cornell University on the G.I Bill. After graduation he and a buddy sold liquor to sailors. This led to the formation of his wildly successful company that eventually ran airport duty-free stores across the globe.

In 1982, Feeney started Atlantic Philanthropies to facilitate the giving away of the huge fortune he had amassed from his duty-free stores and prudent investments. Through Atlantic, Feeney has funded education, medical care, immigration reform, criminal justice advocacy and peace-building initiatives.

In fact, Feeney’s money has facilitated the end to armed conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa, supported marriage equality campaigns, helped to end teenage death penalty convictions and pushed health care reform. His money has built an engineering research facility in New York City and a medical campus in San Francisco. And yet, he asks for no recognition, no naming rights, no publicity.

Never one to boast his success or showcase his philanthropy, in 2012 he told The New York Times simply, “When you’ve got the money, you spend it. When you’ve spent it all, let someone else get going and spend theirs.”

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And, it seems at 85, Feeney has finally and thoughtfully spent it all. Last month, Feeney and Atlantic made their last contribution, giving $7 million to The Cornell Tradition, a scholarship program to support community service-minded students. A fitting final donation from a man who has dedicated his life to helping others.