Duty-free shops innovator Chuck Feeney died this week at the age of 92.
He achieved his goal of giving away most of his $8 billion fortune three years ago.
He lived a frugal lifestyle, flying economy, driving a secondhand car, and renting his apartment.
Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney died this week at the age of 92. Born into a modest blue-collar family in New Jersey in 1931, Feeney co-founded the luxury travel retail group Duty Free Shoppers in 1960 and is known for giving away almost all of his $8 billion fortune during his lifetime.
Referring to his philanthropy outlook as “living while giving,” Feeney donated anonymously to various charities, universities, and other institutions for decades through his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, which was established in 1982. The foundation closed down in 2020 after finally running out of money.
Aside from his philanthropy, Feeney was also known for being incredibly frugal and living a very modest lifestyle.
According to Irish journalist Conor O’Clery’s biography of Feeney, “The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune,” Feeney was uncomfortable with his wealth even earlier on in his career.
“I just reached the conclusion with myself that money, buying boats and all the trimmings, didn’t appeal to me,” Feeney is quoted saying.
Feeney refrained from splurging on certain luxuries and mingling with certain wealthy social groups, and dressed in an understated way. He was known for carrying his books and papers around in a plastic bag.
“He consciously cultivated a frugal lifestyle, wearing a cheap Timex watch and buying a second-hand Volvo,” O’Clery writes. “He insisted that he and his family fly economy class, even on long transatlantic flights, as it was better value for money.”
When he first met Feeney, O’Clery asked him if it was true that he always wore a $10 Casio watch, O’Clery wrote in 2017 for the Irish Times, to which Feeney replied “Why do I need a Rolex when it tells the same time?” He offered to sell O’Clery his spare, then gave it to him after he joked that he couldn’t afford the $10.
One of Feeney’s former business associates told O’Clery about one of his meetings with Feeney: “In walked this man dressed in a faded aloha shirt, white dungarees, and shoes with no socks. Of course, this was Chuck Feeney.”
Despite traveling often, Feeney insisted on flying in economy until well into his 80s, until his friends and family convinced him that it was bad for his health. While traveling on the ground, O’Clery writes that Feeney would never take a private car, preferring to travel by bus, taxi, or train.
Later in life, Feeney and his wife, Helga, didn’t have a mansion or even an established residence — they’d move from city to city, living in modest rented apartments, according to O’Clery. Towards the end of his life he was living in a rented apartment in San Francisco, Insider previously reported.
He told Forbes in 2012 that he had set aside about $2 million — a fraction of his total fortune — for his retirement, and set up modest trusts for each of his five children, according to O’Clery, “with enough money for what they should, and will, need in life.”
Feeney has been lauded by other billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for his philanthropy and frugality — Feeney signed the Giving Pledge, founded by Gates and Buffett, in 2011.
“Chuck’s been the model for us all,” Buffett, who is also known for living frugally despite his immense fortune, once told Forbes. “If you have the right heroes in life, you’re 90% of the way home. Chuck Feeney is a good hero to have.”
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