We are told that we live in an age where inequality is increasing, that the wealthiest are becoming ever wealthier and the poorer ever poorer. I have often wondered what a life that ran contrary to this path would look like and for me that question was answered by a recent radio programme that contained a profile of Chuck Feeney.
Feeney, described by Forbes magazine as the “James Bond of philanthropy”, was born in a modest American-Irish family during the Great Depression. A gifted entrepreneur, he realised when still a college student that there was a great deal of money to be made in selling tax-free goods. His ventures started in selling alcohol to American servicemen serving in Europe but expanded rapidly and led to him founding Duty Free Shoppers, a global business empire that generated wealth for Feeney equivalent to $9 billon.
Given these unimaginable riches, Feeney could have chosen to sit comfortably hoarding his wealth for the rest of his life. He has not done so. Instead, remarkably, he founded a charitable trust with the express intention of giving away his entire fortune to good causes by 2020. His money has been instrumental in aiding the peace process in Northern Ireland, rebuilding Vietnam after the catastrophic war with the US and transforming run down districts of New York City to name but a few of the causes he has championed over the years. Now aged 90, Feeney lives in a rented bungalow in California. The trust has been wound up, Feeney’s fortune spent.
Jesus tells us that those who store up riches on earth but not towards God are “fools”. After considering Chuck Feeney’s life, it’s not hard to see why. As Feeney himself has said, “There are no pockets in a shroud.”