In Memoriam: Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney, DFS Co-founder & serial philanthropist

By Luke Barras-hill |

The Irish-American businessman, philanthropist and Co-Founder of DFS passed away peacefully on 9 October in San Francisco. Credit: Cornell University.

It is with much sadness that TRBusiness reports the passing of DFS Co-Founder and extraordinary philanthropist Charles F. ‘Chuck’ Feeney.

Feeney, 92, passed away yesterday (9 October) in San Francisco, confirmed a statement released via the website of The Atlantic Philanthropies, the organisation he founded.

He is survived by his wife, Helga, five children, 16 grandchildren and four nieces and nephews.

Feeney, together with fellow Co-Founder Robert Warren Miller, built the DFS Group (formerly known as Duty Free Shoppers) empire from the ground up to become the globe’s leading luxury travel retailer.

Miller today remains a shareholder in the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton majority-owned and privately held luxury conglomerate.

‘Giving While Living’

Aside being an astute entrepreneur and businessman, it was Feeney’s selfless commitment to giving back through his philanthropic endeavours, best espoused in his approach to ‘Giving While Living’ that earned him international adulation and multiple accolades.

TRBusiness has been fortunate over the years to have reported on Feeney’s unflinching generosity and we’re happy to reproduce links to several articles from the archives that help to add some context.

READ MORE: ‘DFS founder Feeney’ donates $65m to LSE

READ MORE: Feeney gives it away (again)

READ MORE: DFS co-founder funds NI justice projects

READ MORE: Bertie Ahern praises Feeney’s generosity

In 1982, Feeney and his family set-up the Atlantic Foundation. He transferred all his business assets to the foundation two years later.

Charles Feeney and Robert Miller opened the first Duty Free Shoppers unit at Hong Kong Airport in 1960 before launching the renowned DFS Galleria fascia in the 1970s (renamed T Galleria by DFS in 2013), a concept that has proven hugely successful in establishing partnerships with the world’s leading luxury brands. Pictured is DFS Galleria at San Francisco Airport. Source: TRBusiness Top 10 Operators report archives.

By the time he dissolved the foundation in 2020, Atlantic had accrued more than $8 billion in grants, principally from the US, Britain, Australia, South Africa, Vietnam, Bermuda, Cuba, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In 2011, he became the 59th signatory of the ‘Giving Pledge’, a cause started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Feeney’s remarkable life was chronicled in the aptly titled, ‘The billionaire who wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney secretly made and gave away a fortune’, by Conor O’Clery.

“Chuck was as passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of others as he was about being successful at business,” commented Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO of Atlantic and long-time adviser to Feeney.

“He cared more about being effective at what he did than about amassing wealth or collecting awards.

“In philanthropy, that meant being present and engaged in an unassuming manner with the people and their work who, with his support, could improve the lives of others in meaningful and lasting ways.”

Peter Smitham, former Board Chair of The Atlantic Philanthropies, added: “Chuck Feeney was an exceptional entrepreneur, citizen of the world and friend to people in need,” he said.

“In an unprecedented act of generosity, he secretly gave away nearly all of his wealth in the early 1980s to advance opportunities and better outcomes for those who are unfairly disadvantaged or vulnerable to life’s circumstances.”

TRBusiness would like to express its deepest sympathies to the Feeney family on the passing of Chuck. Those wishing to share their thoughts, tributes and memories can do so using the Disqus comments tool below.

To read the The Atlantic Philanthropies statement in full, click here.

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