SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: Great opportunity to hear from Mr. O'Clery about one of the most amazing stories in philanthropy. And, indeed, it's one that had profound impact on Cornell. Over the last few years, Conor has researched and authorized and written the authorized biography of Chuck Feeney, who is a 1956 graduate of the Hotel School and a philanthropist who has given away virtually all of his wealth in establishing the Atlantic Philanthropies, a foundation that supports many, many things worldwide, including significantly supports higher education.
From 1972 until today, the Atlantic Philanthropies and Chuck have given $600 million to Cornell University, which is just an incredible number--
--funds that support--
Conor, we're profoundly grateful to Chuck for his generosity. And I hope you will, when you see him, I hope you'll relay the gratitude that was just expressed. Conor's book, The Billionaire Who Wasn't, has been the subject of recent stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and several other publications. And I understand that a substantial article is soon to be coming in The LA Times as well.
What makes the story so interesting and remarkable is not really the literally billions that Chuck has given away over the last several decades, but rather, that for three decades he chose to do it anonymously. Like Andrew Carnegie in the last century, he's really committed to giving while living and, I think through this book, encouraging others who have the means to do likewise, to do likewise. Not surprisingly, Chuck's story involves a lot about Cornell and people and places associated with Cornell. And as you read it, many of you will recognize the names, the faces, and the places.
After this presentation, we're very fortunate that Conor has agreed to spend some time at the reception and a book sale and signing just across the plaza in the Terrace over at the Statler Hotel. So I would encourage you to join us for that. And without further ado, I would like to introduce Conor O'Clery, who actually comes to us from Ireland.
He worked for The Irish Times, Ireland's leading national newspaper, for over 30 years in various positions, including news editor, correspondent based in London, Moscow, Washington, Beijing, and New York. He's written for The New Republican-- Moscow, contributed to Newsweek International, and has been a frequent commentator on CNN, NPR, and BBC. An award-winning journalist, Conor has written a number of books. And we're very pleased that he's with us today to talk about his latest. Welcome.
CONOR O'CLERY: Thank you very much for that introduction. And thank you very much for inviting me here to speak today. But I have to say, it's very appropriate place, Cornell, to speak about a remarkable Cornell alumnus, Chuck Feeney. As mentioned, he's-- actually, it's more than $600 million. It's now $700 million. I just did a check before I came here.
He's not only Cornell's biggest living donor, he's the biggest living donor to any university in the United States. Not that you'd know that without being told. From the start of his giving, Chuck Feeney has insisted on being an anonymous donor.
So I'm sure some of you might be wondering how on earth this most secretive person ever agreed to have his life laid out in a book. Well, let me take you back a bit. I first came across Chuck Feeney at a White House party in 1994. I was based in Washington as a journalist.
The party was to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Bill Clinton was president. [INAUDIBLE]
Chuck Feeney was there as a member of the group of amateur Irish-American peacemakers. And like everyone else, I thought he was a billionaire, although a rather strange kind of billionaire. And he sort of hung around at the back of the room, rather shy. He wore off-the-peg clothes. And I noticed he wore a $10 plastic watch.
Years later, when I was based in New-- when I came to New York as the North American editor of my newspaper, I encountered Chuck Feeney again and got to know him. And he agreed to give me an interview for my newspaper. And one of the things I asked him was, do you always wear a cheap plastic watch?
He said, I do. I've got a spare one here. I'll sell it to you.
I think I joked with him that I couldn't afford it. I found him-- he had a rather mischievous sense of humor. He called me up a few weeks after the interview appeared and was published and invited me for lunch in PJ Clarke's bar on Third Avenue in Manhattan.
Neither of us mentioned the interview, though halfway through the chicken pie, he said, I want to thank you for the interview. And he produced from this plastic bag-- he never carries a briefcase. He carries [INAUDIBLE] in a plastic bag.
He produced a broad, bulky brown envelope. And he pushed it across the table. And he said, take it when nobody's looking. And I pushed it back, and I said, I-- no, what's this?
And he said, oh, no, take it. He says, there are no photographers around. Nobody's looking. And I pushed it back, and he pushed it back and eventually said, well, open it. And inside was a $10 watch.
We began to meet regularly after that to talk about politics. Chuck Feeney loves talking about politics, reading about politics. But the fact that he'd given me an interview about what he did intrigued me, and I thought perhaps he might be inclined to go further.
And over time, I started talking to him about doing a book. As a professional storyteller, I could see what an amazing story, or like the glimpse of an amazing story that was in Chuck Feeney's life. He said that would be a difficult decision for him. But I saw that he was tempted.
He was coming to the conclusion at this time in his life-- of his early 70s-- that a book would promote the debate on philanthropy about giving while living. Telling his life's story would be the best way to persuade wealthy people that they should use their entrepreneurial talents to dispose of their fortunes to do good during their lifetime. How could you inspire people if nobody knows you exist?
Well, at first I couldn't get him to make a decision. And eventually, I put my ideas in writing. And I said, I'll fax you a proposal.
I said I would find a publisher and finance the project myself so the book would not be compromised. In return, he would have to tell his friends and his family and beneficiaries, who'd been sworn to secrecy [INAUDIBLE] mortal sin, that it was OK to talk to me. OK, I'll think about it, he said.
Well, three months later, he turned up again in New York and invited me to lunch at PJ Clarke's. And I had faxed him the proposal, and he had thought about it. But he never mentioned it.
We talked about Iraq. We talked about Northern Ireland. We talked about everything in the news.
We paid the bill. We left, and we got onto the Third Avenue. And as we were talking, I said, rather resignedly, do you want more time to think over that other thing? No, he said. Let's do it and walked away.
So that was how he agreed to cooperate with the book. And now, I had to find somebody to publish that other thing, to agree to publish it. Bit problem-- nobody in the New York publishing world had ever heard of Chuck Feeney. A bigger problem-- nobody in the New York publishing world had ever heard of me.
But PublicAffairs eventually took on the project, but not without checking out my story. They called people in Chuck's foundation and asked about this Irish journalist's rather unlikely claim. And the people he contacted said, no, Chuck would never agree to a book. He's too private a person.
But eventually, somebody contacted Chuck Feeney, and he said, yes, we're doing it. He subsequently honored the contract, if you'd call him saying, let's do it and walking away a contract. He subsequently honored it to the letter.
I thought I would have trouble getting people to talk about him after years of being sworn to secrecy. But I found that his close friends had been urging Chuck Feeney to have a book written and were happy to tell the story when I came along. People like Jack Clark, past dean of the Hotel School, and Ernie Stern, the former fundraiser for the class of '56, and his best pal, Chuck Rose, also the class of '56, who founded the first American restaurant with a salad bar.
The problem was interviewing Chuck Feeney, himself. He gave me all the time I wanted. But as many here will know, he doesn't like talking about himself. He has little or no ego and no gift of introspection at all.
But I gradually got a lot of him with the help of an occasional glass or two of white wine, of which he is very fond. I found he was a very frugal person. He flies around the world constantly, but always in economy class.
When we traveled together, he would be dressed like a [INAUDIBLE] American tourist. He would wear a Hawaiian shirt and carry a shopping bag instead of a briefcase. Anyone meeting us would've thought I was the philanthropist.
What I found was that Chuck Feeney was not just the greatest philanthropist to come out of Cornell, but possibly the greatest entrepreneur. He was an entrepreneur from the day he was born. When he was a kid in Elizabeth, New Jersey, he and his pal, Moose Foley, used to make money shoveling the snow off driveways. Chuck would go ahead, knock the doors, and collect the money while Moose shoveled the snow.
Sometimes if he took too many orders, he'd have to shovel snow himself. And that was his first lesson in overextending a business. He got into Cornell [INAUDIBLE] on the GI Scholarship in 1952. And to make ends meet, he sold sandwiches to the fraternities.
There were no fast-food joints in Ithaca in those days. And he identified a niche market. And to this day, he's known among his contemporaries as the Sandwich Man. There's actually a chapter in the book called the Sandwich Man.
He would buy the bread and bologna with a check late on Friday that didn't have to be cashed until Monday. And he says this was his first expense with deficit financing. When he graduated, he went to Europe literally to seek his fortune.
In Barcelona, he met another Cornellian, Bob Miller. And they started selling liquor and cars to the US fleet on American military bases in Europe and eventually all over the world. He got two more Cornellians, Jeff Mahlstedt and Lee Sterling, to join them. And they formed a worldwide company called Tourists International.
Chuck, however, hadn't taken to heart the lessons about overextending he learned from Moose Foley by clearing snow with or the dangers of deficit financing that he learned by making sandwiches. He and his partners nearly went bust in the early 1960s when they overextended their car business. Everyone left except Chuck Feeney and Bob Miller.
What saved them was their acquisition of a couple of small duty-free concessions in Hong Kong and Hawaii. Duty Free was a tiny business in those days. But they got the concessions just as the Japanese were being allowed to travel abroad as tourists for the first time since the reconstruction of their country after the Second World War. The Japanese had loads of savings and a pent-up demand for consumer goods. And they flooded into these two stores in Hong Kong and Hawaii.
Feeney and Miller were able to sell them bottles of Johnny Walker at $5, which cost them $25 back in Tokyo because of protectionist prices. And they literally were overwhelmed. The first store they had in Honolulu was three trestle tables tied together, or put together with Scotch tape. And the pressure of Japanese wanting to buy was so great, quite often the tables were [INAUDIBLE].
Chuck Feeney and Bob Miller extended their duty-free business around the Pacific. They expanded from Hong Kong and Honolulu to cities like Anchorage and San Francisco and Guam. They looked at Saipan, but it had no airport. So they built an airport. And they built a terminal, and the trails of Japanese tourists started coming there, too.
Their success depended on keeping secret what they were making and hoped the bid from concessions came up for renewal. And here's the sort of money they were making. In the mid-1980s, Chuck Feeney and Bob Miller, and two junior cohorts, were dividing up cash dividends of $400 million a year. This was in the 1980s.
What they had been engaged in was one of the greatest untold retail stories of the 20th century. But none of them never gave interviews, none of them allowed the secrets of the business to get out. They depended on not letting competitors know what they were going to bid. So the whole ethos of the corporation was shrouded in secrecy.
In 1988, Chuck Feeney was listed in Forbes as the 23rd richest American alive, with his share in the Duty Free and multiple other businesses that he had established around the world. But as he became rich, Chuck Feeney would grow uncomfortable with the trappings of wealth. He hated ostentation. He never lost the connection with the blue-collar and white-collar school friends in the Irish-American community in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and his family and their friends, were showing off is not encouraged.
He was worried also about the effect that great wealth would have on his five children, that they would grow up to be spoiled rich kids with a sense of entitlement. So he began reading up on how to cope with great wealth. And he took to heart the advice of the Reverend Frederick Gates, which he gave to his employer, John D. Rockefeller, the world's first billionaire.
Mr. Rockefeller, your fortune is growing like an avalanche. You must distribute it faster than it grows. If you do not, it will destroy you, and your children, and your children's children.
He read several times the essay "Wealth," by the great Scots-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who said, the rich should give all their money away while living. With the help of his closest advisor, a lawyer called Harvey Dale, another Cornellian, and now professor of philanthropy at New York University, he set up a secret foundation in Bermuda, today called Atlantic Philanthropies. On one afternoon in November 1984, he signed everything over to the foundation, apart from a mere $40 million in cash and [INAUDIBLE] mansions that he set aside for his wife, from whom he is now divorced. It was a unique act in the history of philanthropy, giving away such a fortune all at once, in its totality, irrevocably, and when in middle age.
With the stroke of a pen, he went from being a billionaire to being the billionaire he wasn't. At the end of the day-- at the end of day, he was personally worth perhaps $2 million. He likes to joke, how do you become a millionaire? Become a billionaire first.
He continued to run his businesses for a salary as CEO, so people thought he still owned them. And to this day, he's still described in the media as a billionaire. From the beginning, he set in place measures to make the giving anonymous and to ensure the beneficiaries did not honor him in any way.
He employed people to identify good causes, many a first in the United States, and to approach them with offers of funding. Beneficiaries were told not to ask where the funding came from. They were told not to say if they found out. And they were told, if they did say anything, the funding would cease.
In fact, the donees were told the money came from several anonymous donors. Now, this wasn't, strictly speaking, a lie. Feeney gave his foundation directors small amounts to donate themselves, so the fiction could be maintained of a number of individuals who gave grants anonymously, but it was all of Chuck's money.
By the way, the program manager of this secret organization was called-- and I'm not kidding, this was her real name-- Angela Covert.
The anonymity rule caused some problems. The president of Columbia University, for example, once turned down the offer of a major grant on the grounds that the money might be tainted. The then Cornell President Frank Rhodes, who was in on the secret, had to go quietly and assure the president of Columbia University that the funding was not tainted. Actually, the foundation found that beneficiaries didn't usually worry if the money was tainted. They were more likely to say, tainted how?
The strictures-- I got that from Harvey Dale.
The strictures on anonymity were so severe that when Feeney attended a function of beneficiaries, his staff [INAUDIBLE] between having on any photographers that might wander in. And this led to some rather bizarre situations. On one occasion some years ago, his foundation agreed to have an official photographer take pictures of dignitaries posing with Chuck Feeney. But the photographer, by agreement, had no film in his camera.
On another occasion, a small-town newspaper in Ireland, The Limerick Leader, published his picture without knowing who he was. And the foundation bought up all copies of that day's edition and destroyed them. I'm sure the editor wondered by sales that day were so good.
Cornell, as you know, became the biggest single main beneficiary of this secret philanthropy. Chuck Feeney never forgot what Cornell game him. Ernie Stern explained to me how deep the commitment to Cornell could be for people of his generation.
Ernie Stern was born in Nazi Germany. And Feeney came from a deprived community of New Jersey. Neither of them, Ernie told me, could have expected early in life to end up graduating from such a prestigious Ivy League university. It left people like them with a strong sense of owing to Cornell an enormous feeling of indebtedness.
And since 1982, Chuck Feeney's gifts to Cornell helped support or create a great number of growth initiatives. And all together, these gifts are like now $700 million, and I think are still going up. I believe that no one single living person can match that at Cornell or any university in the United States. And they include funds for the Cornell Tradition, [INAUDIBLE] and which, since 1982, has been awarding annual fellowships to Cornell students.
He has helped fund the Weill Cornell Medical College, the Hotel School and Statler Hotel, Robert Beck Center, the only name-- the only building I can find that Chuck has agreed that he would take the naming rights of. Typically, he didn't put his own name on it. They put the name of Robert Beck, a former dean of the Hotel School, whom he has enormous respect and love for. And there are several other initiatives which were included in the recent press release from Cornell, which kept his secret better than most over the years. I think Cornell never issued a press release about Chuck Feeney until this book came out.
Chuck Feeney is also a huge giver to other American universities, such as Stanford, where he has donated some $200 million in grants. In Ireland, his giving to higher education, research, and human rights exceeds over $1 billion. I tried to get my head around $1 billion. And I looked on the internet, and I found that if you stack single dollar bills, one on top of the other, if you stacked a billion single dollar bills, one on top of the other, it covers 64 miles.
Chuck Feeney, in Vietnam, Australia, and South Africa is the biggest single philanthropist in their history. So far, his foundation has donated a total of $4 billion. But you won't find his name on any of the hundreds of university buildings, clinics, or hospital research centers he has funded around the world.
He has no academic titles-- honorary academic titles-- because he always refuses to accept honorary degrees, or to attend award dinners. He doesn't like self-congratulatory black-tie dinners. And I was told once he was persuaded to attend a black-tie dinner in Dublin, and he turned up in a jumper. And he agreed to borrow a bow tie and a jacket from a waiter because it was pointed out to him that he would otherwise be drawing attention to himself.
Actually, the director of the hospital in Da Nang in Vietnam managed to get around the rules about not putting up a plaque in a rather clever way. I was with Chuck when we arrived to see a just-completed diagnostic center at the hospital in Da Nang, of which [INAUDIBLE] are funded. The director met us at the gate. And he pointed to the new six-story building.
Great, said Chuck. It looked really good. Look again, said the director. Yes, it looks great.
Look again. Look at the color. The Vietnamese director could [INAUDIBLE] that Feeney was of Irish-American background. And he kept the building green over Chuck's Irishness as a way of saying, I know the money came from you, and this is my way of thanking you.
So why the anonymity? It's one of the questions I'm often asked. I think Chuck Feeney is shy and secretive by nature, except when it comes to business.
He hails from a community where, to use his own expression, you don't toot your own horn. He was largely influenced by his mother, who was a secret Samaritan herself. Back in the 1930s, when she saw a neighbor with Lou Gehrig's disease walk past the house, she would get in the family car and pretend she was going in the same direction and give him a lift.
Chuck Feeney also thought that if his donations became known, other foundations might hold back from their funding. He doesn't believe that now, but he did then. In recent years, however, the anonymity thing became something of a farce.
The foundation got too big to remain secret. It was the elephant in the room of philanthropy. In two of the years, it had paid out $4 billion, and that couldn't go unnoticed.
Beneficiaries also everywhere have, over time, come to know that Chuck Feeney was the mystery donor. He was the one who always turned up. He was the one who discussed with the head of the institution what his vision was and what his needs were. And the money always seemed to follow such discussions.
It reached the point where beneficiaries all over the world came to know that it was Chuck. And Irish university presidents looking for funding from the government would be asked, talk with your man, the secret fellow. Could he not help?
Here at Cornell, I believe that when a new structure went up, people would say, it's Chuck Feeney again. But sometimes it wasn't. The problem was, Chuck Feeney had become synonymous with anonymous. And people were giving credit where he actually wasn't entitled to credit around this funding.
There's another practical reason for abandoning anonymity. There's $4 billion left in the foundation. And almost uniquely among modern philanthropists, Chuck Feeney and his fellow directors have decided to spend all that in the next decade and go out of business, rather than create a perpetual foundation. They believe that the wealth of today should be used to solve the problems of today. And only by ending anonymity could this be achieved and used to inspire others.
It's not easy to get rid of $4 billion. But that's the task they have set themselves. I heard Frank Williams, who became chairman of the Atlantic Philanthropies Trust, I heard him tell Atlantic staff at the conference that they had to spend $1 million a day to achieve their end.
He reminded them of the story of a French general, who ordered an officer to plant a tree. When the officer protested that it would take 100 years to mature, the general said, that shows there's not a moment to lose. Plant it before lunch.
Traveling with Chuck Feeney, I was able to see what he got out of his giving. His face would light up when he sees kids studying in a library he has built or a surgeon performed an operation in a clinic he has funded. And I also saw how he hated being thanked.
He would always say to beneficiaries-- and I saw this once when we had lunch with the director of the hospital in Vietnam, who was effusive in his thanks over lunch. He said, it is you we have to thank. You are the people who are doing good things with the money. And he believes passionately in that. So I'd like to thank you for giving me your attention and inviting me here.
SPEAKER 2: Now, we're going to open it up to questions. So I would encourage you to, if you'd like, [INAUDIBLE] microphones up here, to do so. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Has he made any donations to encourage [INAUDIBLE]?
CONOR O'CLERY: Sorry? Has he made any donations to--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] to fund entreprenurialism [INAUDIBLE]?
CONOR O'CLERY: I think he has. I don't know the precise details.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] change his lifestyle to have more [INAUDIBLE]?
CONOR O'CLERY: How has he changed his lifestyle since he is no longer anonymous? Well, he hasn't changed it at all, really. Let me tell you of Chuck Feeney's lifestyle. He doesn't own a house or a car.
He lives in small apartments in different cities that are rented by the foundation. I've been in every one of these apartments. And believe me, they are one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments. And they're very small and very modest.
He travels constantly, always in economy class. I've been with him on a 14-hour plane journey from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City. And I was in row 46B, which is like as far back as you can get, or seat 46B. And he was in 56C and D, which is [INAUDIBLE].
And that's how he travels. His foundation directors have pleaded with him for his health-- his knees aren't very good-- to change his lifestyle and travel business class. But he still, to this day, of 76 years old, looks for the cheapest ticket.
He-- if you saw him walking on the street, you wouldn't know he was Chuck Feeney, the great philanthropist. He'd be carrying a plastic bag. You might see him stooping down to pick up a bit of rubbish and put it in the bin.
You will not see him in the fanciest restaurant in New York. He likes to go to-- he likes a nice meal. But he doesn't like paying too much for it.
And I don't mean to say that he's mean. It's very difficult to go for a lunch or dinner with Chuck Feeney and stop him from paying for the meal. But his frugal lifestyle has become a problem for some of the higher living university presidents and the hospital directors that he might take out for lunch, when they like a nice, decent glass of wine. And Chuck Feeney always has a reputation for picking the cheapest white wine on the menu.
And I can tell you, that's not true. I've seen him pick the second cheapest.
And I'm now a world expert on cheap white wine in different parts of the world.
AUDIENCE: Are you going to see to it that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett get copies of your book?
CONOR O'CLERY: I would hope they would buy several. Interestingly, Chuck Feeney is a role model for giving while living. And I think what he did was a long time before it became a topic of real interest in philanthropy.
And one of the interesting things I discovered while I was writing this book is that Bill and Melinda Gates, they've-- that's the name of the foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They've taken on Warren Buffett as a third trustee. And the three of them have agreed that this huge amount of money that they have must be spent down within 50 years of the death of the last of the three of them. So they have adopted the same principle of giving while living, which Chuck Feeney explained to me in very simple terms.
He said, here's how it works. There are so many problems today that should be met with the wealth of today. And let the people with wealth in future generations tackle the problems of future generations. He said, if I have $10, and I give it to somebody who needs $10, isn't that better than giving them $0.10 a year for 300 years? Yes.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I have questions in two totally different directions. One is, has he-- about the [INAUDIBLE]. Has he managed to keep his background and kids more reasonable?
And the other is about his recent change and the change in direction [INAUDIBLE] foundation that says, we're happy that you've funded in the past. Is there a new direction for more funds? Could you talk a little about [INAUDIBLE] going to [INAUDIBLE] and why?
CONOR O'CLERY: Why he came to the decision to--
AUDIENCE: How he came to the decision to keep the funding in new directions [INAUDIBLE]?
CONOR O'CLERY: In the last few years?
AUDIENCE: In the last few years, and why [INAUDIBLE]?
CONOR O'CLERY: As regards the children, Chuck Feeney has five children. He's divorced and remarried. His children all respect him and love him for what he did.
The obvious question to ask is, you know, what do his children think of the fact that their dad gave all his money away? They aren't really disinherited, because in the divorce settlement with his wife, Danielle-- she's a French-Algerian wife he met in France-- the settlement was increased to $100 million and all the family property, which included a number of mansions that Chuck and Danielle had bought in the early days when he was living a rich lifestyle. So the children aren't disinherited. Their mother is a very wealthy person.
They respect very much what he did. And they have not turned out to be spoiled rich kids, which was one of his fears. His son, Patrick, is a primary school teacher. His daughter, Diane, runs a modest foundation, if you call $40 million a modest foundation, which is devoted to persuading foundations to give away more money.
And the other three-- his daughter Caroleen is a film actress and has played a role in 18 Hollywood movies, which she did without any money from her dad. And the other two daughters are also, they have grandchildren-- Chuck's grandchildren [INAUDIBLE]. So it's worked out very, very well.
And [INAUDIBLE] to the book launch in New York that Chuck Feeney turned up at, which caused great consternation, because nobody expected that he would turn up at the book launch, given that he's not the type of person that likes public accolades. So when the book launch had been organized for the 24th of September, the guy who was organizing it, Neil [INAUDIBLE], the publisher in New York, he rang me in a panic. I was in Dublin.
And he said, Chuck has just told me he's bringing 98 of his school friends from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and his family and two [INAUDIBLE]. So instead of being a book launch, it became a celebration of the legacy of Chuck Feeney. And his children, four of his children, attended that.
And actually, that was a confirmation, for me, of what I'd come to learn about Chuck Feeney, that he identifies totally with the community of which he grew up. This-- Irish-American communities vary from place to place in the United States. I've spent a lot of my time reporting on them.
And the Irish-American community in Boston is very different from the Irish-American community in San Francisco. And the Irish-American community of Elizabeth, New Jersey, has its own particular identity. And as far as I can see, they're just lovely people. They help each other. They like joking, and they stick together.
And when all these people came to the book launch celebration in New York, Chuck Feeney just blended in with them. And once the speeches were over, and Chuck said a few words, I was knowing he couldn't get wait to get off the stage. He just blended in with them. You could see the Chuck Feeney who is one of the world's biggest philanthropists, who is at ease with university presidents, is even more at ease with the white-collar and blue-collar people that he grew up with.
There's one other amusing incident. When a little old lady came up to me-- she was all of 75-- from the school friends. And she said, I can't do the New Jersey accent very well. But she said, Conor, I used to be Charlie's girlfriend. Boy, did I make a mistake.
I'm still working. As regards the change in direction of the philanthropy, during the 1980s and the '90s, Chuck Feeney was not only inspirational to giving, but he would find cases of institutions to fund. And he would travel around. He discovered Australia in the late 1990s. He discovered Ireland 10 years before that.
He's only discovered Cuba in the last couple of years, much to the consternation of some of the more conservative members of his trust. He discovered Vietnam in the late 1990s, when the foundation was flooded with cash from the sale of the Duty Free. [INAUDIBLE] $1.26 million from that in cash.
This couldn't continue. He couldn't keep discovering new geographies because he's now in his 70s, and he has difficulty walking. The foundation was also thinking of moving away from funding buildings. They didn't want universities in Ireland [INAUDIBLE] come to depend on [INAUDIBLE] philanthropies.
So they refocused. And this happened at the same time as they decided that they would spend it all down in the next decade. And they decided to focus on issues where they could make a big impact with money. And they settled on four main issues-- aging, children, human rights, and medical research. And that's where the money is going now, by and large.
I asked Chuck Feeney, do you-- will you ever open up in another company? And he said, I wish I was younger, but he can't now. But that's the way-- the decision's been made for the foundation, and that's the way it's got to go. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Did Mr. Feeney ever talk to you about his religious or his spiritual beliefs and--
CONOR O'CLERY: His traditions with--
AUDIENCE: Any religious beliefs or his spiritual beliefs? And does that factor into his philosophy of philanthropy?
CONOR O'CLERY: That's a very interesting question. He is not religious. He's not a churchgoer.
I asked him about it. He said, no. I was brought up a Catholic, but I think the Catholic Church lost its way somewhere. However, people I've talked to, like the president of Chaminade University in Hawaii, which is a religious Catholic-funded university and is exceptionally funded by the philanthropies, which doesn't usually fund such things, she said that she's convinced he is profoundly religious.
A monk called Patrick Hederman, a Benedictine monk in Ireland who got $2 million from Chuck for a library at his monastery-- again, it was exceptionally willed because the Atlantic Philanthropies doesn't fund religious organizations. He thinks that Chuck Feeney, at heart, is a Benedictine monk. And I've reproduced in the book that he found a lovely way of thanking Chuck Feeney for his funding.
He wrote his own biography. And at the beginning of the biography, he wrote a poem, "Thanks to the Anonymous Donor." And if you look carefully at the poem, the first letter of every line spells Charles F. Feeney.
Looks like that's it.
SPEAKER 2: We'd like to thank you, again, on behalf of everyone for being with us, for sharing so much so candidly and--
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Journalist and author Conor O'Clery came to Cornell Oct. 24 to talk about Chuck Feeney, the 1956 Hotel School graduate turned businessman, philanthropist, and Cornell's biggest benefactor. O'Clery spent two years researching Feeney for his book, "The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune."