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Chuck Feeney: a generosity that will echo through the generations

The passing of philanthropist Chuck Feeney – who famously set out to give away his vast wealth during his own lifetime – leaves a legacy that will benefit others for generations to come, the Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s has said.

Chuck Feeney (pictured centre) receiving a joint honorary Doctorate of Laws (LLD) from 10 universities on the island of Ireland in 2012. Photo credit: Susan Kennedy, provided by NUI.

Professor Sir Ian Greer offered his deep condolences to Mr Feeney’s family and friends, but praised the profound impact the 92-year-old Irish-American had made to promote the health and wellbeing of societies around the globe.

Through his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies formed in 1982, Mr Feeney donated more than £6.5 billion to worthy causes worldwide. Major donations in Northern Ireland included around £100 million directly to Queen’s, plus other collaborative initiatives.

“Chuck Feeney was an outstanding advocate and supporter of the higher education sector on the island of Ireland,” Sir Ian said.

“He leaves a powerful legacy, which will be felt for generations to come.

“At Queen’s University Belfast we are grateful for his many years of support and, on behalf of all our staff and students, I send my condolences to his family and friends on their loss.”

Atlantic Philanthropies supported groundbreaking work across a diverse range of areas of the University’s activity. This included landmark capital projects such as The McClay Library, Queen’s Elms Village and the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine – at £15 million the largest single donation that Queen’s has ever received.

Atlantic’s support changed the lives of countless students and provided staff with state-of-the-art facilities to carry out world-class research across health and human dignity, services for children and young people, education, and the promotion of peace and reconciliation.

Chuck Feeney’s vision of ‘giving while living’ saw the Atlantic Philanthropies support universities across the island of Ireland.

“Helping universities,” he once said, “is helping the economy. It’s helping yourself. It’s helping your neighbours.”

His impact on higher education led 10 universities, including Queen’s, to confer a joint honorary Doctorate of Laws (LLD) on Mr Feeney in 2012. The aim was “to give public honour and thanks to Chuck Feeney for his incredible support of the Irish universities” and to convey “just how radical and transformative this support has been”.

The celebrated philanthropist traced his family roots to County Fermanagh, close to Kinawley and the townland of Larganacarran. Queen’s Northern Ireland Place-Name project notes that this comes from the original Irish language name meaning ‘hillside of the sickle’.

He was to go on to reap a rich harvest, from modest beginnings.

Born in 1931 in New Jersey at the height of the Great Depression, he graduated from Cornell University, after receiving a US military scholarship.

He co-founded the Duty Free Shoppers group in 1960 and while he amassed a personal fortune, he avoided the trappings of wealth and by 1980 had set about planning his philanthropic work.

Mr Feeney was said to have been inspired by the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Queen’s graduate and former Irish Times journalist Conor O'Clery, who wrote The Billionaire Who Wasn’t, a biography of Chuck Feeney, said: "He was very impressed by Carnegie's famous essay Wealth, which says such things as 'to die rich is to die disgraced'."

Chuck Feeney’s vision of giving extended over a period of decades. It was initially done so anonymously, but now his name is renowned for his generosity and his willingness to take risks to help others.

He was quoted as saying: “Wealth brings responsibility. People must define themselves, or feel a responsibility to use some of their assets to improve the lives of their fellow humans, or else create intractable problems for future generations.”



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