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It Costs Nothing to be Kind, or Maybe it Costs $8 Billion. Either Way, it’s Worth ‘Giving While Living’

13 Oct, 2023 Frank Ferreri

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Louisville, KY (WorkersCompensation.com) -- Thanks to our Dr. Claire Muselman, I just this week learned who Chuck Feeney was. Feeney's been in the headlines lately because of his recent passing at age 92 and what he did with his fortune before he passed.

If you've been through certain airports, you might have walked by -- or shopped in -- some of the Duty Free Shoppers locations that Feeney co-founded more than 60 years ago and from which he amassed the $8 billion fortune he gave away.

The reason why Dr. Muselman sent a note to me about Feeney was because of his generosity and the mindset behind it. According to CNN, Feeney advocated "giving while living," rather than waiting until his estate went through probate to turn loose the full flex of his philanthropic muscles.

To that end, Feeney established Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982 and transferred all of his business assets to it in 1984. Feeney was successful in giving while living because, in 2020, Atlantic Philanthropies wrapped up its work as it gave away the last of Feeney's fortune. When was the last time you heard of an organization so successful that it put itself out of business?

As his life drew to a close, Feeney didn't own a car. He didn't own a home. Instead, he rented an apartment. Is that what "success" looks like? Maybe it depends on what "success" really is.

If you're on this site, you might be wondering what does a rich guy giving away a bunch of money and dying while living a frugal life have to do with workers' compensation?

Well, the pages of WorkersCompensation.com often find perspectives on workers' recovery and focusing on the whole person and bringing a human element into workers' compensation. So, what if we took a Chuck Feeney approach to that work? What would it look like? I think there would be at least three key features:

(1) The work itself would be the motivation. Feeney had a passion that went beyond money, status, title, or external indicators of success. In 2011, Feeney wrote, "In business, as in philanthropy, I have always sought an independent, strategic edge where potential is often greatest, as well as opportunities that I can understand and to which perhaps I can contribute personally." Taking a personal stake in a workers' recovery and in the process that gets workers and organizations back to humming along productively is where the "work" -- and reward -- of workers' compensation lives.

(2) Empathy would come naturally. In this same piece, Feeney wrote, "Beginning with little more than a few nascent ideas, the experience of having made a few sizable donations, and a passionate interest in assisting those whose life circumstances or experience resulted in deficit or vulnerability, I have been fortunate that many others with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise have been willing to participate in and enhance this grant making endeavor over many years." If you care about the work and those you serve, you want it to be contagious.

(3) It would bring you joy. Feeney also wrote, "The process of -- and, most importantly, the results from -- granting this wealth to good causes has been a rich source of joy and satisfaction for me and for my family." Is there a way that your job can bring you, and your family, joy and satisfaction? If not, why not? What has to change for you to make sure that, at the end of the proverbial day, you walk away with a feeling of joy?

My guess is that Chuck Feeney died happy, even without a car or a house or a bunch of indicia of wealth as we popularly understand it. To me, that seems like a life well-lived. I told Dr. Muselman that I want to be like Feeney when I grow up. Although, barring hitting the Powerball eight times, I'm not likely to amass a Feeney-esque fortune, I can give -- and give it all -- while I'm living.


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Frank encourages everyone to consider helping out the Kind Souls Foundation and Kids' Chance of America.

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