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I liked NY Times columnist Jim Dwyer’s recent article “A Billionaire Philanthropist Struggles to Go Broke.”

“Charles F. Feeney, 81, a man with no romantic attachment to wealth or its trappings, said the world had enough urgent problems that required attention now, before they became even more expensive to solve.

“ ‘When you’ve got the money, you spend it,’ Mr. Feeney said. ‘When you’ve spent it all, let someone else get going and spend theirs.’ …

“Last fall, Mr. Feeney gave his alma mater, Cornell University, $350 million to seal its bid to build a new campus for advanced engineering that New York City has commissioned for Roosevelt Island. …

With “grand philanthropy often comes public glory for wealthy donors, as buildings and institutes are dedicated to benefactors, their names embedded above doorways like graffiti tags chiseled in marble. No building anywhere bears Mr. Feeney’s name. Among tycoons, he has been a countercultural figure of rare force, clinging to his privacy far more fiercely than to his money.

“He set up the philanthropies in Bermuda, in large part because that would allow him to escape United States disclosure requirements. That also meant he could not take tax deductions when he contributed his holdings.”

More recently, he decided to tell his story in order to encourage other people of means to share the wealth.

“Mr. Feeney, who grew up in a working-class family in Elizabeth, N.J., served as a radio operator in the United States Air Force and attended Cornell on the G.I. Bill. He sold liquor to sailors in ports, then formed a company that ran airport duty-free shops around the world. He secretly turned over the duty-free business to the philanthropies in 1984 and continued to invest. …

“He has given away essentially everything he has made, apart from decent, though not extravagant, provisions for his four daughters and one son. They all worked through college as waiters, maids and cashiers.

“ ‘I want the last check I write to bounce,’ Mr. Feeney said.”

Read the article.

“Charles F. Feeney, 81, has already given away $6 billion through his foundations.” Photograph: Brad Vest, NY Times

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