THE BLOG

Dare to Be 100: Saint Chuck

03/18/2015 07:01 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2015

On this St. Patty's Day no matter how hard I try I am unable to dig out any Irish in my ancestral background, German and English all the way back. So naturally I look for a proxy relation to get in on the fun, and this is where I strike pay dirt.

For 20 years I have been a close friend of Chuck Feeney, the legendary formerly anonymous billionaire who made his fortune selling Rolex watches and cigarettes to the Japanese tourists in his Duty Free shops. He picked up his chips and placed them within the Atlantic Philanthropies guided by our friend Chris Oechsle. His early benefactions were encoded on the backs of envelopes.

But anonymous no longer, because a few years ago, he figured that by "coming out" of his anonymity a greater good would result, so he initiated the Giving While Living campaign. He recruited Warren Buffett, the Gateses, and other billionaires all of whom pledged to discharge their billions while still alive. In this connection I chide him for stealing one of my lines, "I intend to die broke."

A few years back I had the wonderful opportunity to introduce Chuck to John Gardner in John's home on the Stanford campus as John was dying of prostate cancer.

The coming together of two "Uncommon Men" was memorable.

Chuck's generosity has been so enormous that some have called him the greatest philanthropist in America since Carnegie. He has focused his giving on education and health matters. He has been a major donor to his alma mater beloved Cornell, to UC San Francisco which is his current home, to Stanford which is my home, and countless other entities all over the globe.

Among his targets is naturally Ireland. He has sprinkled his generosity over all the counties. His giving has been so extraordinary that all of the Irish universities came together and granted him a singular collective honorary degree. This honor would be just like Harvard and Cornell and Stanford and all the American universities coming together for a collective acknowledgement. Such an award comes as close to an academic ecclesiastical beatification as there is.

Chuck's generosity has been a political statement as well. He has been a forthright contrarian taking major exception to the heavy handedness that the US has shown specifically in Vietnam and Cuba. As a result of his effort to repair the damage I have accompanied him as a consultant to Vietnam seven times and Cuba twice. While there we sought out the best opportunities to do good. I am particularly proud that one of our targets was the upgrading of the public health enterprise in Viet Nam which as in the US, languishes. The private doctors cluster in the big cities where the money is. We assisted in the establishment of an Association of the Schools of Public Health and their enterprises.

It was with Chuck's help that I have run two of my marathons in Ireland, one in Dublin and the other in Limerick. Dublin was memorable because directly at the finish line was a pub which we eagerly sought as it was bitterly cold outside, but Guinness warm inside. The Limerick run four years ago was very special. I was originally entered in what was ballyhooed to be the Bog Trotters Marathon , but somehow the organizers called it off. So since I was all set to run Chuck simply called his buddies at Limerick University on the banks of the Shannon River and arranged the first international Limerick Marathon. Doing this posed no special problem with this request as he had single-handedly built the University of Limerick from a country pasture into a campus that would make Princeton envious. My run was accompanied by members of the athletic department at Limerick. It was well covered by the local press. I still occasionally get e-mails from observers.
My initial introduction to Chuck was from Gerhard Casper who was then president of Stanford University. He noted that Chuck had just read my new book "Dare to be 100" and was eager to meet me. Somehow "The 99 steps to 100" helped focus his amazing energy.

Now he and I are in our mid-80s. We anticipate further opportunities to explore ways to look beyond the usual stuff. I will see him this afternoon to see whether we can find any four leaf clovers.

It is always too soon to stop.