Unique honour for 'very special' Feeney
on 07/09/2012 00:00:00
It is estimated that the 81-year-old billionaire, who advocates a "giving while living" philosophy, has donated almost €800m to universities on both sides of the border since 1989.
Dr Maurice Manning, chancellor of the National University of Ireland, said it was a unique occasion that all universities in the Republic and North had come together to give the highest award to "a very special, very remarkable person".
During the ceremony, a specially produced video was shown highlighting how Dr Feeney's contributions had benefited the sector, with contributions from the heads of the various universities: Dublin City University, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, UCC, UCD, Queen's University Belfast, University of Limerick, University of Ulster, and Trinity College Dublin.
Dr Patrick Fottrell, chairman of Science Foundation Ireland, said Dr Feeney had realised major investment would be required in higher education and research for Ireland to become a knowledge economy. He described the Irish-American as "the renaissance man of Irish higher education".
Dr Fottrell said the sector had been the single biggest beneficiary of Dr Feeney's distribution of his wealth in Ireland which totalled €1.25bn out of about €5bn he had donated globally over the past three decades.
He said the honorary degree was the universities' way of thanking Dr Feeney for his generosity to Ireland and other countries and for his actions which would have a major impact for generations to come.
Dr Feeney, accepting his honorary doctorate, said he felt embarrassed by all the attention but expressed his appreciation for the kind words said about him. "My cup runneth over," he said, beaming.
Former president Mary Robinson said honorary degrees were a way of recognising the achievement of individuals who had truly made a difference to society.
She said it was "eminently fitting" that Dr Feeney's contributions to universities should be recognised because of their transformative effect on higher education in Ireland and its effect on breaking down society's barriers.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hoped progress would continue on a report already launched by the Government to encourage more philanthropy. He described Dr Feeney as an extraordinary man who made an extraordinary contribution to Ireland, particularly the higher education sector, despite never seeking recognition for his generosity.
Speaking afterwards, Dr Feeney said he felt very proud of the success of Irish universities on the international scene. The development of the University of Limerick had given him particular satisfaction.
Asked what advice he might offer to encourage other philanthropists to ad-opt his "giving while living" philosophy, he showed his sense of humour by the simple reply: "Don't die."