The Billionaire Who Gave Away His Fortune Took a Big Chance on Us

With gratitude for his vision and generosity, we mourn the loss of Chuck Feeney

By Marc Freedman | Oct 10, 2023

Photo of Chuck Feeney via hk.asiatatler.com

We at CoGenerate (formerly Encore.org) are mourning the loss of Chuck Feeney this week.

Without Chuck’s vision and generosity we likely would not exist as an organization. Twenty-five years ago Atlantic Philanthropies took a chance on our start-up, playing a significant role in funding the new Experience Corps program and later the Purpose Prize, along with a host of related activities catalyzing second acts for the greater good and bringing the generations together for mutual benefit. Overall, Atlantic’s steadfast support underwrote much of the first decade of our work. Chuck Feeney’s philanthropy–and the magnificent team administering it–provided us simultaneously with great freedom and close partnership.

One of the unique joys of that partnership was getting to know Chuck Feeney himself. He lived just a few blocks from our office in San Francisco, in a modest apartment. He once came by our office to take me out to lunch, and we talked at length about the importance of purpose in the second half of life. He described friends who were looking for service opportunities that drew on their accumulated experience and produced lasting impact.

Throughout, I was struck by his humility, and kindness. He was a shy, even awkward, person. But the time I saw him most gregarious was visiting a group of Experience Corps members in Brooklyn, mostly African-American and Latino women and men who came from similar working-class backgrounds as Chuck Feeney. As you can imagine there was some trepidation in advance of the visit–who was this billionaire coming to talk with the Experience Corps team? But he immediately made the Experience Corps members feel at ease and valued.

Finally, a personal note. I wonder whether I would have been able to follow my own purpose and path had it not been for Chuck Feeney. It would certainly have been more difficult. And for that I am enormously grateful to this man who dedicated the second half of his own life to “giving while living.” And embodied that spirit completely.