Irish American billionaire Chuck Feeney almost lost his life to ill-health as the bitter dispute over control of his charitable foundation took its toll according to a new book.
Feeney continues to suffer significant health issues after a very trying period in his life.
Author Conor O’Clery says that the philanthropist paid a heavy price as he lost control of the board of his own trust in a row over how to spend his remaining funds.
The Irish Times reports that details of the conflict are contained in a new edition of his biography written by O’Clery.
O’Clery notes that the conflict took an ‘almost intolerable’ toll on Feeney’s health.
He writes: “The conflict nearly killed him, and it would severely compromise his long and complex relationship with Harvey Dale, a founding president of Atlantic Philanthropies.”
O’Clery’s book "The Billionaire Who Wasn’t" was first published in 2007.
The publicity shy Feeney has donated more than $10 billion globally. He has donated $1.5 billion to Irish education and hundreds of millions to other Irish charities. He also played a lead role in the Irish American role in the peace process.
But he lost control of his foundation after a shift within the foundation’s management towards the grant-funding of social justice causes, including some closely associated with the Obama administration.
O’Clery says that while the move was strongly supported by the board, Feeney feared the foundation ‘was losing sight of his vision and would jeopardise his ability to make large gifts for bricks-and-mortar projects’.
The report says Feeney was uneasy with the high profile that Atlantic and its leadership were gaining in the political and social justice arena.
He raised his concerns about this and the rising costs involved, in a letter to the board in June 2009.
O’Clery adds, “Feeney was rebuffed. He could do nothing. He might be the moral leader and source of all the foundation’s assets, but he had only one vote on an independent board.”
He reveals that in early 2010, Feeney asked Dale, whom he had once described as ‘the most influential person in my life’, to seek the removal of three board members regarded as obstructionist.
O’Clery writes: “Dale tried to talk Feeney out of it... But Feeney was adamant. Dale bit the bullet and approached the three individually to convey Feeney’s request that they resign.
“They refused, as he expected. Feeney was furious. He told Dale, ‘You have failed’.”
Feeney’s health suffered as the row led to turmoil within the charitable foundation and all but ended his relationship with Dale.
Ill-health followed with Feeney hospitalised for a chest infection on a 2010 trip to Dublin.
The report states that on a subsequent trip, he was admitted to St James’s Hospital with a more serious illness.
O’Clery reveals: “His heart had stopped briefly, and he had a pacemaker inserted. Friends and family feared the crisis was destroying him.”
The dispute was finally resolved when the foundation’s chief executive Gara LaMarche resigned in May 2011.
A year later Feeney announced that Atlantic Philanthropies was to complete grant-making by the end of 2016, and cease operations in 2020.
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