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A Billionaire Philanthropist Struggles to Go Broke

nytimes.com
JIM DWYER

“I want the last check I write to bounce”

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Across from a television set with the obsolete girth of a model bought 20 years ago, beneath the grandchildren’s crayon artwork taped to the wall, to the left of an abandoned hula hoop, Charles F. Feeney sits in an armchair and explains how he will get rid of his last $1.5 billion, give or take, by 2016.

Just as he did with his first $6 billion, it will all be awarded through Atlantic Philanthropies, the group of private foundations he created in 1982 and managed to run anonymously for its first 15 years, even though it was one of the largest sources of grants in the United States, Ireland, South Africa and Vietnam.

Why shut it down? Mr. Feeney, 81, a man with no romantic attachment to wealth or its trappings, said the world had enough urgent problems that required attention now, before they became even more expensive to solve.

“When you’ve got the money, you spend it,” Mr. Feeney said. “When you’ve spent it all, let someone else get going and spend theirs.”

When the last of its money has been spent and it closes its doors sometime around 2020, Atlantic Philanthropies will be by far the largest such organization to have voluntarily shut itself down, according to Steven Lawrence, director of research for the Foundation Center. (The much bigger Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plans to shut down 50 years after its founders die.)

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