September 16, 2020
My friend Chuck Feeney has finally given away the last of his personal fortune of A$11,000,000,000 to charity!
It took him 30 years to make it — through a chain of Duty Free Shoppers (DFS) stores around the globe, both in airports and in city centres – and another 30 years to give it all away, most of it anonymously.
Chuck had aimed to give it all away by age 85 – thinking he wouldn’t live past that date — but as it turned out it took him until he turned 89. (He lives in San Francisco with his wife Helga.)
“It’s hard to give that much money away,” Chuck once told me at his Couran Cove Resort on the Gold Coast, Queensland, “because it keeps bringing in hundreds of millions each year.” That was why, when he wanted to give some money away he would always say to the organisation he had personally chosen: “Think Big!” (Sometimes this confused Australians who thought Chuck was referring to the famous racehorse that had twice-in-a-row won the Melbourne Cup.)
Chuck told me he had too much money to ever spend: “A man only needs one pair of shoes. It would be hard to spend even a million dollars.”
He lived a spartan lifestyle, flying economy class, adding up small café bills to see he wasn’t overcharged, and wearing a $5 watch…while Helga ironed the clothes.
Actually, Chuck was the best friend of my best friend: Brisbane tennis player Ken Fletcher, who I captured in my 2008 biography The Great Fletch. (Chuck and Helga Feeney take up two chapters.)
It was Fletch who talked Chuck into coming to Brisbane in May 1992 after Chuck said he wanted to give away all his money “on the RAT Theory”. “You’ll have to give some in Brisbane, well,” Fletch said.
When they arrived from London I asked Chuck what he meant by RAT Theory and he said: “Remaining Allocated Time” (which he later called Giving While Living). “I want to help people now, while they need it, rather than set up a philanthropic Trust that just keeps getting bigger and richer every year while people continue to suffer.”
Chuck liked my Vietnam: A Reporter’s War book and so offered to fly me to Vietnam to see how much it had changed since the war, but I wouldn’t go back. (Chuck had meanwhile built two universities there and spent $300million on the country’s health service.)
Later on, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates adopted Chuck’s idea and became perhaps his greatest admirers.
When Ken Fletcher died in 2006 I wrote his obituary in which I pointed out that his mate Chuck Feeney – who considered himself Irish, although born in New Jersey — had given A$550million to medical science in Australia, and had brought peace to Ireland.
I knew the subs would cut out that last bit because they could never believe it, sitting at their desks… and they did cut it out.
But if you click on this link Forbes Article it takes you to a story this week in Forbes about Chuck’s success; you will see that this famous American magazine says the very same thing: “Chuck Feeney brought peace to Ireland.”
I tell Chuck’s Irish peace story in The Great Fletch published by ABC Books in 2008 and available on this website.
WELL DONE CHUCK AND HELGA. You did good.