Major Irish LGBTQ+ rights funder Chuck Feeney dies aged 92

Through his foundation Atlantic Philanthropies, Chuck Feeney donated over $9 million to the campaign for Irish LGBTQ+ rights.

The image is a portrait of philanthropist, Chuck Feeney. He is wearing a blue checked shirt with a dark grey cardigan. He is sitting in front of a bookcase with ornaments and candles.
Image: @MartinOBrien17 via X

Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney has passed away at the age of 92. Through his Atlantic Philanthropies foundation, Feeney devoted his wealth to humanitarian projects globally, including massive investment in the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland. 

Born on April 23, 1931, Feeney hailed from Elizabeth, New Jersey and was the son of an insurance underwriter and a nurse, both descended from Irish immigrants.

After serving in Japan during the Korean War, Feeney studied hotel administration at Cornell University in New York. In order to make ends meet, he reportedly sold baskets of sandwiches to fellow students, earning him the nickname of ‘the sandwich man’.

After graduating, he moved to Europe, where he met his first wife, Danielle Morali-Daninos. Along with his colleague Robert Miller, they set up Duty Free Shoppers (DFS) after securing the first duty-free concessions in Hong Kong and Hawaii, eventually becoming the world’s biggest retailer of perfume, tobacco and spirits.

The success of the company resulted in the pair becoming billionaires, at one point leading to him being considered to be one of the top 25 richest Americans. However, without announcing his intentions publicly, Chuck Feeney transferred all his wealth into a philanthropic foundation in 1984, eventually becoming Atlantic Philanthropies.

By the time of his death on October 9, 2023, he had donated more than $8 billion (€7.5 billion) through the foundation to education, medical research, healthcare, ageing and civil society in the United States, Vietnam, Australia, Bermuda, South Africa and Ireland.

As well as funding Northern Irish peace and reconciliation programmes through the 1990s, ultimately helping to bring about the Good Friday Agreement, he also oversaw investment in the Irish University sector and encouraged the Irish government to match his financial contributions, leading to the sustainable development of third level education in Ireland.


Over the nine years between 2004 and 2013, Atlantic Philanthropies donated more than $9 million to Irish LGBTQ+ organisations, directly targeting campaigns including civil partnership and later the Marriage Referendum, protection for LGBTQ+ families, rural communities, transgender visibility and gender recognition legislation, anti-bullying policies and LGBTQ+ mental healthcare strategies.

Among the grant awardees were organisations such as TENI, the NXF (National LGBT Federation) and LINC.

The Atlantic Philanthropies closed in 2016 after Chuck Feeney gifted the remaining $740 million of his foundation to develop a global network to advance his vision of a fairer, healthier and more inclusive society. $177 million of this went jointly to the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College Dublin and the University of California at San Francisco to advance research on dementia.

Feeney’s final years saw him suffering from severe health issues, and were spent in a modest apartment in San Francisco. He is survived by his wife, Helga Flaiz, his former wife, Danielle and five children from his first marriage.

The Irish LGBTQ+ community is indebted to the generosity and foresight of this trailblazing leader in human rights. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and all who knew and worked with him to better the lives of others.

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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