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Philanthropist Who Gave Away Entire $8Bn Fortune Flew Coach, Carried Plastic Bags

January 6, 2017

Photo:  Chuck Feeney, in YouTube video for Atlantic Philanthropies]


"I'm not here to tell anyone what to do with their money," Feeney says. "You make your money, you do what you want with it. But I think there is an obligation, certainly for the haves, to reach out and to see what they can do."


NYTimes reporter Jim Dwyer wrote about Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney and his remarkable legacy – philanthropy - and how his experiences compare with that of President-elect Donald Trump. Mr. Feeney simply calls it "giving while living."


Feeney signed over his entire fortune to Atlantic Philanthropies, a collection of private foundations, over 3 decades ago and kept the funds growing through tech investments in companies like Facebook and Alibaba. None of the 1,000 buildings he has funded bear his name, Dwyer points out.


"It's more than money. It's satisfaction that you're achieving something that is helpful to people," Feeney said of his giving in video posted on the Atlantic Philanthropies site.


Now in his 80s, Feeney has left himself with about $2 million worth of wealth to live on — less than 0.001% of the $8 billion he's given away.


Dwyer's details about how Feeney lived his day-to-day life may be equally remarkable. Feeney:

  • Flew coach until he was 75 years old
  • "... and carried reading materials in a plastic bag"
  • Skipped luxury lunches in New York City in favor of burgers at one of the ubiquitous Upper East Side pubs
  • Rents his home, a San Francisco apartment


His cramped airplane seats and casual burgers put him squarely in the company of billionaires like investor Warren Buffett, who lives in the Omaha, NE, house he bought for a little over $31,000 in 1958. And rather than calling them “cheap,” it might be more appropriate to say “they're frugal.” Spending on things they care the most about - in Feeney's case, philanthropic causes around higher education, public health, human rights, and scientific research - and hardly sparing a dime for the things they don't.