Scheduled to close its doors by 2020, the foundation ended its grantmaking activities at the end of 2016. The final grant of $7 million — awarded at a low-key ceremony last month — mirrors Feeney's first philanthropic gift in 1982, a donation of the same amount to establish the Cornell Tradition fellowships program, which awards five hundred fellowships a year to students who "demonstrate significant work experience, a commitment to campus and/or community service and academic achievement." The final grant — which brings Atlantic's total support for the program to more than $40 million — will create the Frank H.T. Rhodes Fund for the Cornell Tradition, named for the Cornell president emeritus who worked with Feeney to create the program. Feeney, who made his fortune as co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers Group, has given a total of nearly $1 billion to Cornell, including $350 million in support of the Cornell Tech campus in New York City.
"It is fitting that Chuck Feeney's and Atlantic's first and last grants have been for the Cornell Tradition, investing in emerging leaders' commitment to service, learning, and social change," said Atlantic president and CEO Christopher G. Oechsli. "Chuck's experience at Cornell launched him on his career as an entrepreneur and fostered the values and ethos Chuck embodies as one of the world's leading philanthropists, of this or any age."
Over the last thirty-five years, Feeney has given a total of $8 billion to educational institutions and philanthropic causes — anonymously for the first twelve. As a proponent of "giving while living," he decided in 1999 and announced in 2003 that Atlantic would spend down its assets by giving away approximately $350 million annually in four areas: disadvantaged children, aging, health, and human rights. His insistence on living frugally while giving away his fortune and refusing ostentatious public recognition has earned him nicknames like "the anti-Trump" and "the James Bond of philanthropy."
In 2011, Feeney signed the Giving Pledge, whose co-founders Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have called him a role model and a hero who helped inspire their efforts to get billionaires to give at least half their wealth away during their lifetimes. According to the Irish Times, Feeney once told Buffett he hoped his last check would bounce. Oechsli told the Times that the final check to Cornell did not bounce.
"It's a lot more fun to give while you're alive than to give while you're dead," Feeney has said. "I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living."