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Still giving while living - Chuck Feeney to give away $6 billion by 2016

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Irish American philanthropist Chuck Feeney
Irish American philanthropist Chuck Feeney


San Francisco - Chuck Feeney makes it clear he enjoys giving away his money.

One of America’s great philanthropists, he has pioneered the Giving While Living concept now embraced by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates among other billionaires.

Basically, Feeney will have given away his $6 billion fortune by 2016 – all of it, not keeping some of it for a rainy day.

It will give him intense joy the on the day he gives away his last nickel.  He hopes his last check bounces.

Feeney says it will give him a freedom he never enjoyed when he had a huge fortune that he made in Duty Free Shops mainly hanging around him like a millstone.

One of the world’s richest men at one time, he was never comfortable with his wealth. Now he has found a way to enjoy it.

I have known Feeney for over 25 years and have never seen him so happy as he contemplates life as a regular pauper.

Feeney is driving by his latest huge philanthropic venture, donating $270 million to a new state of the art hospital campus in San Francisco that will cater to women, children, cancer and also research.

The hospital complex that is springing up in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood is a sight to see, transforming a previously rough neighborhood into a thing of beauty.

The complex stretches for city blocks and will be state of the art when it is finished. It will be a major research center, and Feeney says he hopes many lives will be saved as a result.

On the other side of the country, in New York he is investing another $350 million in creating Silicon Valley on New York's Roosevelt Island where a vast new campus is also taking shape thanks to him.

Generations of technology inventors whose breakthroughs will greatly further people’s lives will pass through its doors he hopes.

The scale of his philanthropy is breathtaking, especially when you hear about it from Chuck Feeney, who lives as modestly as a church mouse and never met a $5 lunch special he didn’t like.

Feeney smiles as he takes me around San Francisco.  He is never happier than when discussing how to give things away.

“People forget it is fun,” he says.  “It inspires others. You always feel better about yourself.”

Not all billionaires agree. Feeney instances a number of them who he has tried to reach with his message, but have failed to respond.

“How many yachts do they need, how many glamorous houses and wives? ” he asks.

He is the antithesis of men like Donald Trump, who brags and boasts and gives very little to charity.  Feeney was utterly anonymous until 11 years ago when he went public in order to encourage others to give while they live.

It worked.  He can justifiably claim much credit for Gates and Buffet agreeing to do so.

He’s right too, of course, about enjoying giving even when you bring it down to the micro level in most of our lives.  If you give that subway beggar a few bucks it means even more for you than him.

Feeney discovered that early in life and commenced a spectacular career that saw him climb the pinnacle of business success, and just as quickly start giving it all away.

In the process he has transformed higher education in Ireland where he has donated over $1 billion, as well as donating much more to organizations serving the needy.

The day after our visit around the campus we sit outside a restaurant on a perfect day in San Francisco. The New Jersey boy looks at the blue water and blue sky and raises a glass.

“It doesn’t get any better,” he says.

If you are Chuck Feeney it certainly does not.

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