the billionaire who wasn’t by c o’clery

It was only a year ago.  I was on a ridiculously long and weary plane ride back home when I sat next to Skip Downey.  I guesstimated that he was probably in his late sixties/early seventies.  Something about his careful yet sharp gestures was quite charming and dazzling – in an oddly familiar way.  He had glasses that were so clean that it looked almost as if the lens were not there.  He had a polo shirt under a slick gray sweater and a modest watch that stuck out from his wrist.  Naturally, we started a conversation about how long the flight was going to be.  He was old but he spoke with a youthful energy.  When I told him of my aspirations and desires to accomplish certain goals in life, he eagerly listened like my grandfather.  He then began a story of his best friend growing up.  A group of them, actually, who grew up together in New Jersey and ended up receiving scholarships to Cornell University.  One of them in particular always had the enthusiasm to make people genuinely laugh.  He was Chuck.

I was immediately hypnotized by Skip’s life story.  Being born during the Depression, he spoke of the good times and the bad.  He spoke of his buddies, his first job, and how he started his family.  He wasn’t bothered by any of my curiosity that interrupted him frequently.  I just love talking to elderly folks.  Their life stories really substantiate their pearls of wisdom… in other words, you really take their advice to heart because you re-live their lives through the stories.  By the end of the plane ride, we had exchanged contacts and he wrote me the title of the book in which his friend, Chuck, was featured.

The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made & Gave Away A Fortune. The book is a biography of Charles Feeney- the man who came up with the idea of duty free shopping and made a fortune.  Chuck doesn’t own a car or a house and he always flies economy.  Skip told me that when he had asked Chuck why he wouldn’t fly first class, he simply said, “The plane doesn’t go faster in first class.” Chuck chose modesty over comfort; giving over receiving; and happiness over greed.  He began to anonymously donate his first millions to schools and causes all over the world, including Atlantic Philanthropies– the biggest secretive and generous philanthropic funds in the world.

People like Chuck Feeney are such precious gems in the world.  It’s hard to come by generosity these days.  But through his book, his philosophy makes it loud and clear that it should be a moral duty for wealthy people to give, give, and give.

dee’s recommendation: 5/5