An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, T.D., launched The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune by Conor O’Clery at the James Ussher Library at Trinity College Dublin on Monday, 3 September 2007.
The book is a biography of Chuck Feeney, who was hailed in 1988 by Forbes Magazine as the twenty-third richest American alive. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a blue-collar Irish-American family during the Depression and a veteran of the Korean War, Feeney made a fortune as co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world’s largest duty-free retail chain. But secretly, Feeney had already transferred all his wealth to his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies. Only in 1997, when he sold his duty free interests, was he “outed” as one of the greatest and most mysterious American philanthropists in modern times.
A frugal man who travels economy class and does not own a house or a car, Feeney then went “underground” again, until he decided in 2005 to cooperate in a biography to promote giving-while-living. Now in his mid-seventies, he is determined his foundation should spend the remaining $4 billion in his lifetime. The Billionaire Who Wasn’t is a tale of one of the greatest untold retail triumphs of the twentieth century, and of what happens to a unique man and his family when confronted with wealth beyond imagining.
Ireland benefited greatly from Chuck Feeney’s generosity. Atlantic Philanthropies has made grants of US$ 1 billion to the island of Ireland to institutions and organisations focussing on critical social problems related to ageing, disadvantaged children & youth, population health, and reconciliation & human rights. The foundation has supported the Northern Ireland peace process and has had transformational effect on research in tertiary educational institutions.
Trinity College Dublin, as all other universities in Ireland, has greatly benefited from Atlantic Philanthropies’ giving. Several major buildings in Trinity, including the Ussher Library, where the book launch was held, were funded by Atlantic Philantropies’ grants.
Conor O’Clery is an award-winning journalist and author who served as foreign correspondent for The Irish Times in London, Moscow, Beijing, Washington, and New York. He has written books on Russian, Irish, and American politics. He now lives in Dublin, Ireland.