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. Over its lifetime, the organisation donated vast sums to universities, research institutions, social programmes, community enterprises and charities across the globe, Ireland and the University of Limerick has benefited greatly from his generosity.
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. 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.
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. Feeney was determined his foundation should spend down during his lifetime and after investing $8 billion to advance opportunity and promote equity and dignity, the Atlantic Philanthropies completed grantmaking in 2016.