Tribute to Chuck Feeney

17th October 2023

Cicely Saunders International pays tribute to the Irish American philanthropist Chuck Feeney who has died in San Francisco aged 92.

Charles F. Feeney was a pioneer of duty-free shops and an investor in technology start-ups who gave away nearly all of his $8 billion fortune to charity, much of it anonymously. He was born in New Jersey in 1931 and after serving as a radio operator in the Korean War and attending Cornell University, formed a partnership with fellow Cornell alumnus Robert Miller in 1960 to sell duty free items at Mediterranean ports to US military personnel returning home to the United States. The company they founded, Duty Free Shoppers, went on to become a multi million dollar global business, investing in hotels, retail and clothing.

In 1982 Chuck Feeney decided to give his personal fortune away during his lifetime and established a group of foundations by transferring his personal stake in DFS (estimated to be in the region of USD $500 million) to start what became The Atlantic Philanthropies.

The Atlantic Philanthropies donated USD $7,025,605 for the construction of The Cicely Saunders Institute at King’s College London, and provided research funding to Cicely Saunders International for its capacity building programme BuildCARE, the Fellowships Consortium, GlobalCare and IARE 1 and IARE 2 programmes and related projects. In total this funding amounted to USD $15,937,455.

The Atlantic Philanthropies also contributed a further USD USD $350,000 for the endowment of a permanent professorship at the Cicely Saunders Institute – the Laing Galazka Professorship in Palliative Care taking the overall total to USD $16,287,455.

John McGrath, Life President of Cicely Saunders International said:

I met Chuck in 1994, on business; standing in his office he was in crumpled chinos, and a Hawaiian T-shirt – a unlikely billionaire. However, he was an extraordinary human being. He was determined to give away all his assets during his lifetime. And he was extremely thorough in his analysis of who and which project he should support. Over several years in the early 2000s, he gave Cicely Saunders international over £10 million but believe me we really had to work for it because he looked into every possible detail and pushed us to ensure that the project was great value for money. The world will miss him.

Kate Kirk, Chair of Cicely Saunders International said:

Although I never met Chuck, every time I go into the Cicely Saunders Institute I see his legacy – in the building, in talking to the researchers, in the culture of sharing and generosity. He touched, inspired and supported the work of Cicely Saunders International and the Institute in so many ways, and we will continue to honour his memory in everything we do.

Professor Irene Higginson, Scientific Director of CS International said:

I met Chuck Feeney because of his interest in palliative care, and his belief that if health and social care could get palliative care right, it would feedback to improve all of health and social care. He believed that resources should be used to do transformational things and was generous with his acumen and his assets in supporting projects and individuals. He exacted attention to detail and clear vision. Everything he predicted about challenges we would face in building the Cicely Saunders Institute happened. He was also very modest: he travelled in economy class on planes, was impressed that I cycled to meet with him and his wife Helga, read widely and said that if we give to you, we expect you to give back to others. It was a privilege to work with him.