Universities honour their 'Renaissance man' Feeney
NUI chancellor Maurice Manning described the event as a unique and historic occasion because it was the first time every university had come together to honour “a very special person”.
Modest philanthropist keeps it short and simple
CHUCK FEENEY responded with characteristic modesty to the praise heaped on him by the great and the good of Irish academia in Dublin Castle yesterday.
“I feel embarrassed, as rightly I should be, from all this attention but I want to say that I genuinely and sincerely appreciate your kind words, the accuracy of which will be proven over time,” he said.
The generous billionaire spoke briefly from the stage in response to university presidents and chancellors, many of whom had addressed the philanthropist in Latin during the conferring ceremony. “After such nice words about me, I have only one thing to say: my cup runneth over . . . thank you one and all for your kindness and generosity.”
Most of his remarks were focused on thanking his family, particularly his brother-in-law Jim Fitzpatrick for the care shown to his sister Arlene, who died recently.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was among those struck by the simplicity of Mr Feeney’s short response. “It’s remarkable that all of the universities have come here to express their gratitude in person and to honour him, and to have him respond with a simple thank you and his expression of understanding for those who looked after his sister when she needed attention.”
The publicity-shy businessman continued to try to deflect attention from his efforts when speaking to reporters after the ceremony. Asked if he felt his aims and objectives had been achieved after years of philanthropic giving, he said: “Certainly the success of the Irish universities in competing elsewhere makes me realise that they’re getting good education. You’ve got a very fine group of academics that teach you.”
Had any individual project given him particular satisfaction? The University of Limerick had been transformed by new buildings and academic undertakings there had been successful, he said. He recommended other wealthy individuals follow his example of donating money to causes they considered worthy.
“My rationale is pretty simple. Given the chance to compare the satisfaction they get one way or the other, there’s no doubt that they’d rather do something good with it than nothing.”
He said he was the first person in his family to have gone to university. Born in the industrial city of Elizabeth, New Jersey to Irish-American parents Leo and Madaline, he was the only boy in a family of six. His ancestors came from Co Fermanagh. MARY MINIHAN