Mr Chuck and Mrs Helga Feeney

CITATION
Award of Doctor of the University honoris causa
Mr Chuck and Mrs Helga Feeney

Mr Chancellor,

Mr Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney and Mrs Helga Feeney are determined and inspirational philanthropists whose joint contributions to higher education, innovation, and health and medical research have benefited humanity. 

Born in 1931 to a working class Irish-American Family in New Jersey, Mr Feeney’s service as a US Airforce radio operator during the Korean War enabled him to attend university – the first in his family to do so.

After graduating in 1956, Mr Feeney co-founded the Hong Kong-based Duty Free Shoppers Group, which grew into a global multi-million dollar business empire that is today known as DFS.

Uncomfortable with the extent of his wealth and, inspired by both his mother and Andrew Carnegie, he decided to devote almost all his money to philanthropy.

In 1982, he anonymously founded The Atlantic Philanthropies, and later irrevocably transferred his DFS Group shares into the Foundation.

Guided by their personal mantra of ‘giving while living’, Chuck and Helga set about dispersing grants, creating infrastructure, and investing in people with the opportunity and ability to realise their vision of a fairer, healthier, more inclusive world.

From the first grant to provide financial aid to students at Cornell, Chuck’s alma mater, the Feeneys pursued ‘big impact’ philanthropy by persuading government leaders to co-invest in Atlantic Philanthropies.

Together with the Atlantic team, they invested in world-class research institutions in Ireland to spur economic growth, as well as making investments in universities and research in the United States, Vietnam, South Africa, Cuba, Bermuda and Australia.

From 1990, the Feeneys donated more than $500 million to Australian universities and research institutions, most prominently to the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Queensland Brain Institute, Translational Research Institute, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Centre for Clinical Research.

Their generosity fundamentally changed the research landscape of South-East Queensland, and has contributed to advances in our understanding of cancer, dementia, pollution, obesity and microbial resistance.

When their philanthropy finally became public, Chuck and Helga Feeney influenced the philanthropic approach of hundreds of others, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, with whom they helped launch the Giving Pledge, which commits the world’s wealthiest to donate.

In 2020, the Feeneys closed down the Atlantic Philanthropies, having invested an astonishing $8 billion over four decades in the service of humanity – ultimately changing the world for the better.

Chancellor, I present to you Mr Charles Feeney, Bachelor in Hotel Administration from Cornell University, Doctor of Laws honoris causa, jointly conferred by the University of Ireland, North and South, and Mrs Helga Feeney for the award of Doctor of the University honoris causa, bestowed by the Senate of The University of Queensland.

Awards

Doctor of the University honoris causa
2022