Alum Honored with Another ‘Feeney Way’ on Campus

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In addition to the avenue on East Hill, Cornell Tech in NYC is naming a pedestrian route after Charles Feeney ’56

This story was condensed from a feature in the Cornell Chronicle.

By Joe Wilensky

There will soon be a second “Feeney Way” at Cornell: a central thoroughfare at Cornell Tech to be named in honor of Charles Feeney ’56, the University’s most generous donor.

The former East Avenue running through the heart of the Ithaca campus was renamed Feeney Way in April 2021, timed to coincide with Feeney’s 90th birthday.

Two years later, in conjunction with his 92nd birthday, the University announced that the central “Tech Walk” on the Cornell Tech campus in NYC will also be renamed Feeney Way.

Students walk between buildings on the Cornell Tech Campus in New York City on Wednesday, February 9, 2022.
The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. (Ryan Young / Cornell University)

The naming recognizes the record-setting $350 million founding grant Feeney made to the University through the Atlantic Philanthropies—the largest-ever single gift to Cornell and one of the biggest in higher education history—to fund first-phase construction and program development on the Roosevelt Island campus, while also creating a permanent endowment.

Feeney, the founding chairman of the Atlantic Philanthropies, spent several decades of his life quietly giving away nearly all of his $8 billion fortune to worldwide causes, with nearly $1 billion invested in Cornell over a 40-year period.

Feeney spent several decades of his life quietly giving away nearly all of his $8 billion fortune.

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Even after the impact of his philanthropy was revealed in the late 1990s, Feeney chose not to connect his name to the many institutions he supported. He only agreed to the renaming of East Avenue on the Ithaca campus because it was an expression of gratitude by the University—and because it could inspire Cornellians to give back to their communities.

“Earning wealth is one measure of success,” Feeney says. “Investing one’s wealth to increase educational opportunities and expand knowledge, awareness, and innovation is a more meaningful way of realizing success.”

The quarter-mile Tech Walk is the backbone of the campus, beginning at its entrance just south of the 59th Street Bridge and the Roosevelt Island tram lines that arch overhead. The 30-foot-wide walk links to other pedestrian paths as it connects the campus’s main buildings and the Campus Plaza at its center.

A native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Feeney enrolled in what is now the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration in 1952 with support from the GI Bill. At Cornell, he was already beginning entrepreneurial ventures, creating a meal delivery business so profitable that his classmates called him “the sandwich man.”

Two years after graduation, he and Robert Miller ’55 co-founded Duty Free Shoppers, which became the world’s largest seller of luxury goods.

In 1984, Feeney secretly gave away nearly all his fortune by transferring his stake in Duty Free Shoppers and other businesses (estimated at more than $900 million at the time) to create and establish the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Charles Feeney
Feeney is one of the leading philanthropists in the history of U.S. higher education. (Provided)

Through Atlantic, Feeney became one of the world’s greatest philanthropists, giving worldwide to universities, nonprofits, and causes focused on education, human rights, health equity, medical research, peacemaking, and social justice.

One of the earliest proponents of the “giving while living” philosophy, Feeney helped inspire people of means to give away the majority of their wealth to better the world during their lifetimes.

When Warren Buffett and Bill Gates created the Giving Pledge initiative to motivate the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to do the same, they cited Feeney as their inspiration.

Feeney reached his lifetime goal of giving away his entire fortune and formally dissolved the Atlantic Philanthropies in 2020.

Published April 26, 2023

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