‘My idea is use wealth to help people’

To the casual eye, Chuck Feeney could pass for an ordinary Irish-American on a visit to the home country.

The 81-year-old self-made billionaire, who earned his fortune from pioneering duty-free shopping in the 1960s, has shunned ostentatious displays of wealth.

When flying to Ireland he usually travels standard class, favouring public transport over taxis, staying in non-luxurious accommodation and reportedly still wears a $15 watch he bought many years ago.

One of his famous quotes which encapsulates his thinking is: “I had one idea that never changed in my mind — that you should use your wealth to help people. I try to live a normal life, the way I grew up.”

Although born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Feeney has always been proud of his Irish roots, which can be traced to Co Fermanagh, and he is also acknowledged as playing a contributory role in progressing the Northern peace process as well as his work through charitable donations.

Given his long association with his ancestral homeland it was no surprise that Feeney has used Atlantic Philanthropies —– the vehicle established in 1982 to implement his philosophy of “giving while living” — to donate generously to Ireland, in particular to universities.

Yet for most of his life, Feeney’s charitable works have been carried out in deliberate anonymity.

However, he decided to go public about his donations in 2002 in an effort to encourage other wealthy individuals to also pass on their wealth while still alive.

As the first member of his family to go to university, Feeney has always had a long interest in education and has donated generously to the sector in recognition of its power to transform people and society in general.

Atlantic Philanthropies confirmed this summer that it would complete making grants by 2016 and cease all its operations by 2020.

Feeney has been so insistent on giving the vast majority of his wealth away while alive that he has joked he would like his last cheque to bounce.

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