Show Mobile Navigation
Humans |

10 Refreshing Stories Of Rich People Who Gave Their Fortunes Away

by Marc V.
fact checked by Jamie Frater

It’s admirable that there are rich people out there who choose to share their blessings with the poor folk. While tycoons like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are well known for their charitable giving, there are plenty of other dedicated philanthropists out there who decided to give their entire wealth away during their lifetime. This list shows those people who just couldn’t wait after their deaths to part with their money, and for that, they deserve a big round of applause.

10 From Mansion To Mud Hut

Jon Pedley lived the life of a swinging millionaire until an alcohol-fueled car accident in 2002 left him comatose and on the verge of death. Miraculously, he survived, and soon experienced a profound change of heart. The UK millionaire—who indulged in alcohol, womanizing, and other vices—later found God and was inspired by the charity work of his friend in Uganda.

He decided to emulate his friend, and literally gave it all away in 2010 as he sold his $1.5 million farmhouse and businesses. Pedley then used the proceeds to move to a mud hut in Uganda and start a charity for local orphans. The charity wasn’t only for the local children, either—British children with a troubled past were also sent there to help the locals and ultimately help themselves. For Pedley, it was a cathartic release from his once-decadent lifestyle—he remarked that “I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life” when asked if he really wanted to go through with it.

9 The World’s Luckiest Man

An 81-year-old Croatian music teacher named Frano Selak led what was arguably one of the most charmed lives ever. He escaped death seven times—including falling from a plane to car and train accidents—before winning nearly $1 million in a raffle draw. However, Selak felt that money wasn’t the path to true happiness, so in 2010, he decided to part with his newfound wealth.

He sold the upscale house on a private island he bought and gave it, along with the rest of his winnings, to his friends and family. He then moved back to his original home in Petrinja, where he has vowed to live a simpler life. He used his remaining money to construct a memorial to the Virgin Mary as a token of gratitude for his incredibly good luck. In addition, Selak set aside just enough money for a hip operation so he could spend more time with his wife.

8 The Millionaire Columnist

Percy Ross, who died in 2001, was the son of a junk dealer in Minnesota and lived a rather hard-knock life. In his adult years, he lost money just as easily as he made it while doing odd jobs. He finally hit it big when he bought and saved a plastic bag company from going bankrupt. By 1977, Ross had gone into the business of giving when he donated more than a thousand bikes to children at a Christmas Party. The following year, he doled out nearly $20,000 to onlookers at a local parade.

However, Ross wanted to reach a wider audience, so in 1983, he started a newspaper column. Titled “Thanks A Million,” the column—which ran in 800 newspapers for 16 years—was a massive success and saw thousands of people who write and ask Ross for money. Oftentimes, Ross gleefully handed money and checks in person to those he felt needed help, but he did not hesitate to turn down requests from people whom he thought had the means to get the money for themselves.

Ross did his last column in 1999 and stated that he had given out $30 million—all of his money. While Ross expressed no remorse for his style of philanthropy, he thanked his readers for the true happiness he experienced while he shared his fortune. It’s easy to dismiss Ross as nothing more than a publicity-hog, but he really did enjoy sharing his wealth among the less fortunate.

7 Chinese Billionaire Left Nothing To His Sons

Real estate and hotel tycoon Yu Panglin announced in 2010 that he had donated his remaining $470 million to his charity foundation, which became worth $1.2 billion. Yu stated that he did not want to leave anything to his two sons and encouraged his wealthy compatriots to do the same. To avoid abuse, Yu designated HSBC to look after the funds and gave explicit instructions no one could invest or inherit it.

Yu later explained his philanthropic views stemmed from his childhood experiences. He grew up in poverty and witnessed the hardships the poor have had to endure in life. He also explained that he left nothing to his two sons because all that money might corrupt them and expressed his belief that could they handle themselves without it. Such generosity has placed him consistently as China’s top philanthropist for several years in a row.

6 The Low-Key Billionaire Philanthropist

Most people have heard of the generosity of the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, as mentioned earlier, only a few may have heard of Chuck Feeney. That is because the Irish-American billionaire has always insisted on doing philanthropy as discreetly as he can. For the past 30 years, Feeney has secretly given as much as $6.2 billion from his vast financial empire to charities and causes worldwide.

It is estimated that the $1.3 billion he has left will be used up by 2016, with his foundation closing by 2020. Feeney, who made his vast fortune in duty-free shops, made no secret of his desire to be penniless before he dies. He hopes that his example will serve as a guide to his fellow wealthy philanthropists not to wait before their deaths before sharing their wealth. In fact, Feeney’s life served to inspire both Gates and Buffett to start their own foundations.

5 The Russian Businessman-Turned-Monk

Monk hands
Yevgeny Pushenko had a good thing going for him back in the 1990s. The Soviet Union had just broken up and people were free to pursue their dreams. For Pushenko, that freedom enabled him to construct a clothing factory in his hometown of Vladivostok. Soon, business was booming and he had 50 factory workers at one point. However, Pushenko felt empty. Until then, he had not really practiced his faith as an Orthodox Christian, which was suppressed for so long by the authorities.

It wouldn’t be long before he met his friends over vodka (of course) and handed them the keys to his factory. His shocked friends found out the reason from his parents the next day: He wanted to be a monk and do a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For three years, Pushenko walked 15,000 kilometers (9,320 mi) through several countries until he finally reached his destination. Pushenko endured many trials during his journey, from battling extreme weather to fending off suspicious authorities, but remarked that his faith kept him going. After he had finished his pilgrimage, Pushenko renamed himself Athanassios and retired to Mt. Athos in Greece, where he has since resided at a monastery.

4 The Millionaire Who Fights Cancer With Charity

Although he had been already involved in various charities for a long time, it was the sight of his own wife suffering breast cancer that moved British businessman Brian Burnie to do something more. He did just that in 2009 when he sold his $26 million estate containing his home and luxurious hotel to fund his own charity, which involved accompanying and transporting cancer patients for free from their homes to the hospitals. Burnie explained that he wanted to help lessen the suffering that cancer patients often had to go through and hoped that his act would inspire other wealthy people to do the same.

That wasn’t the last of Burnie’s generosity. In 2012, he also sold his second house, which was worth nearly $1 million, where he and his wife had been residing in after he sold the estate. He then gave all the proceeds to fund his ever-growing charity and has been living frugally ever since.

3 Film Director Exchanges Hollywood Lifestyle For Simpler One

Although he lived the Hollywood lifestyle befitting the rich and famous, deep down inside, Tom Shadyac wasn’t happy. The director of hit films such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor felt empty amid the fame and fortune he had acquired over the years. That feeling of emptiness was only aggravated when a serious cycling accident in 2007 left him reeling and pondering about his own mortality.

As he revealed in an interview with Oprah, Shadyac discovered that the way to live a truly happy life was to live within your means and share your extras with the less fortunate. For Shadyac, that meant trading his mansions and jets for a mobile home and a bike and sharing his wealth and philosophy with the rest of the world. He remarked this year that his simple way of living has left him feeling truly happier and wealthier than when he lived in the fast lane in Hollywood.

2 The Texas Tycoon Who Died In A Small Room

George Carroll was born in 1855 and grew up in Louisiana, but transferred with his family to Beaumont, Texas, where his father started a chain of lumber companies in 1868. Carroll worked for his father and managed to become the head of the family business. In 1892, he invested in a successful oil-drilling company which made soon made him extremely rich.

However, Carroll realized the oil boom also influenced the townspeople toward a life of excess and vice. Consequently, he unsuccessfully ran for political office several times to combat town’s growing decadence. A practicing Baptist, Carroll frequently made huge donations to the local Baptist church and university. He also founded the local YMCA and became its head and benefactor. It is speculated that Carroll gave away his entire wealth while he was alive, later dying at the age of 80 in a small room inside the very YMCA building he financed.

1 Millionaire Gives Money . . . And Kidney

Zell Kravinsky knew he wasn’t cut out for the wealthy way of living. Sure, he had made millions investing in real estate in his native Pennsylvania, but Kravinsky decided his dollars had a grander purpose than just fattening his bank account. In 2001, he began donating money and land to various charities until his contributions reached $45 million dollars. By then, his family and friends thought that he was being too impulsive, but Kravinsky brushed their reservations aside and said that he could always earn more money—though he’d likely give it away as well.

However, Kravinsky still felt that donating money and land wasn’t enough. He decided up the ante and gave his kidney to a total stranger. His move was met with mixed views, ranging from praise to disbelief. Even his wife threatened to leave him, although that was later defused thanks to famous singer Pat Boone, who knew what Kravinsky did and urged her to forgive him for being too generous. As for Kravinsky, he said that he would readily give any of his body parts again for any who needed it.

Marc V. is always open for a conversation, so do drop him a line sometime.

fact checked by Jamie Frater