Chuck Feeney made a fortune in duty free shops.
Literally a fortune.
At the same time, he lived modestly. No big mansion, no expensive fleet of cars. His neighbors would have thought him to be an average man, and he was of blue-collar stock.
No one heard much about Chuck Feeney of the Asian string of duty free shops. He wasn't in the newspapers, being seen at fabulous parties surrounded by celebrities.
What does a man do with a fortune, if he's not spending it?
He could leave it behind to ungrateful relations, of course, or he could leave it behind to charities and hope that it's distributed as planned.
Instead, Mr. Feeney decided to make his donations while he was living, to put money where he saw the biggest need. And he saw that need in his ancestral homeland.
To date, the Irish-American billionaire has given over one billion euro to improve third level education and promote the cross-border peace process.
His charitable organization, Atlantic Philanthropies, has nearly completed the task of relieving Mr. Feeney of the burden of his wealth. The group plans to shut down by 2012 after disbursing the remaining funds.
In the Bible it says that a wealthy man will find a difficult time of it, trying to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Give away all you have, Jesus said, and there's Chuck Feeney following the suggestion that few, if any, could actually do.
And he's done it without making big announcements. The charity has been done quietly, without the donor seeking anything beyond the satisfaction of knowing that he's doing the right thing for those who need help. He doesn't need public acclaim or accolades or a trip to the White House to receive some honorarium.
Just under 2 billion euro remains, and Mr. Feeney plans to target his giving to areas he feels are most keenly in need.
Quietly. Without fanfare.
A rare man indeed.