Billionaire philanthropist Chuck Feeney, who fell in love with Queensland and gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to research institutions, is being remembered as a giant following his death.

Mr Feeney passed away in San Francisco at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of extraordinary contributions to the state’s research institutions and educational advancement, including the “lion’s share” of the $549 million he donated to Australian research institutions.

After living large off the massive profits from the global duty-free shops franchise and investments in tech start-ups, Feeney felt like his wealth was undeserved. He ultimately rejected the billionaire lifestyle, donating over $8 billion to various causes while keeping a measly $2 million for his retirement.

Often described as a “quiet philanthropist,” he preferred to keep his giving anonymous for over 15 years.

It wasn’t until the 1997 disclosure of his donations to Cornell University, that his generosity came into the public eye.

In 2009, he gifted $27.5 million to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research through his Atlantic Philanthropies fund, setting a record for philanthropic giving in Queensland.

During its operation, the fund donated approximately $10.9 billion to various causes, including health, education, science, and social causes.

Mr Feeneys’ generosity extended to numerous institutions in Queensland, where he developed a deep affection for the region.

In 2019, he was honoured as a Queensland Great by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, recognising his remarkable contributions to the Sunshine State.

His substantial contributions propelled these institutions into the forefront of research and innovation, leading to remarkable breakthroughs and advancements that continue to shape the region’s future.

Mr Feeneys’ unique philosophy was “giving while living.” Despite his immense wealth, he led a modest life, never using a briefcase or owning a vehicle.

Instead of oceanfront Malibu mansions, bespoke Rolls-Royces, and private flights to Burning Man, Feeney rented a two-bedroom apartment, took public transit, and sported a $10 watch, according to the New York Times. He flew economy until he was 75, foregoing the extra legroom even for long trips.

Former Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, Professor Peter Coaldrake, who considered Mr Feeney a friend, described him as a “giant” who would be deeply missed.

“His passing is a real milestone because no one has funded Australian higher education and research like Chuck Feeney funded it,” Professor Coaldrake said.

At a critical juncture in Queensland’s history when the state was positioning itself as a Smart State, Mr Feeney’s dedication to funding science and innovation played a vital role.

According to Professor Coaldrake, Mr Feeney’s support aligned perfectly with Queensland’s vision for growth.

Former Premier Peter Beattie expressed his condolences to Mr Feeney’s family and recalled the significant partnership they shared to transform the state.

“What Smart State was doing with Mr Feeney is leading Australia,” Beattie remarked, highlighting the billionaire’s intelligence and selflessness contributing to Queensland’s development.

“It’s rare to find someone who not only gives their money away to improve the lot of humankind, he wanted to leave a better world than the one he found.”

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