Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Secret Sharer $600 Million Giver Gives Up Passion for Anonymity

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Secret Sharer $600 Million Giver Gives Up Passion for Anonymity

Article excerpt

A businessman from New Jersey has given away more than $600 million to hospitals, universities and other beneficiaries in the last 15 years. But he has done it in such absolute secrecy that most recipients never learned who their benefactor was.

The donor, Charles Feeney, who made his fortune with a string of duty-free airport shops, covered his tracks so well that business magazines for years have estimated his net worth in the billions. They were unable to determine that he had transferred most of his assets to his two charitable foundations and is actually worth less than $5 million.

After years of secrecy, Feeney agreed this week to discuss his gifts because his duty-free empire was sold this month to the company that makes Moet & Chandon champagne, and a suit over the sale would have revealed his anonymous donations. Feeney was matter-of-fact in describing why he had given away his fortune. "I simply decided I had enough money. It doesn't drive my life. I'm a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy." Although large anonymous donations to charity are not unheard of, the scope and style of Feeney's giving and his passion for total secrecy are rare, independent experts on philanthropy say. Harvey Dale, a New York University tax law professor and president of Feeney's Atlantic Foundation, has helped Feeney orchestrate his gifts since 1982. "He doesn't own a house," Dale said. "He doesn't own a car. He flies economy. And I think his watch cost about $15." Feeney and his wife have five grown children. Dale also helped Feeney set up his foundations, which, like the Duty Free Shoppes chain, are based in Bermuda, thus avoiding the disclosure requirements of private foundations in the United States. From the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York to Portland State University in Oregon, none of the American recipients of Feeney's largesse knew who their benefactor was. Grants were paid by cashier's check to conceal the source. …

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