Businessman Sir Anthony O'Reilly has paid tribute to the late Dan Rooney, the former US ambassador to Ireland with whom he established the The Ireland Funds philanthropic group 41 years ago.
In a letter to the organisation's chairman John Fitzpatrick, Sir Anthony said the American's funeral on Tuesday in Pittsburgh – where the Irish businessman worked for more than 25 years as an executive at food giant Heinz – confirmed Mr Rooney's "unusual fame, not just in his home town but in all of America".
Owner and chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers American Football team, Mr Rooney, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador in Dublin from 2009 to 2012, died on April 13th at the age of 84.
Together with Sir Anthony, the Irish-American businessman set up what was then known as The Ireland Fund in 1976 to raise money from US business figures of Irish heritage to promote peace and charity in Northern Ireland.
The charity, since renamed The Ireland Funds, has gone on to raise more than $550 million (€519 million) in 12 countries for Irish causes.
Sir Anthony (80) recalled that the first phone call he received on his arrival in Pittsburgh 47 years ago was from Mr Rooney, who invited him to meet the stars of the Steelers, the most successful franchise in NFL history, at a training session.
"He became the unique figure of American football, its most popular sport, through his natural modesty and understatement – and victory – and when he spoke, it became the law," the former Independent News & Media chief executive said in his letter to Mr Fitzpatrick on Thursday.
“His career in Ireland as ambassador was again one of understatement, but he made progress with all who listened to him. He vowed when he came to Ireland to visit every single county, which I think, in fact, he did. He leaves behind him an immense image of civility and grace.”