San Francisco: Chuck Feeney whose Atlantic Philanthropies foundation has given away $7.2 billion to worthy causes, many of them Irish, was honored by the American Ireland Fund at an emotional and deeply deserved event in his honor on Friday night.

It was black tie and no Chuck Feeney did not wear a tuxedo. Irish Guys from Elizabeth New Jersey would hardly recognize one.

Chuck just won’t wear one anyway, going back to his days as a part time waiter when he had to wear one and hated it because drunk diners regularly spilt wine and soup over it.

The Ireland Fund did it right and honored Chuck, the man who created Giving While Living which has been taken up by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates as the best way to dispense their wealth by helping others.

Getting Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to follow you is a big deal. As Forbes Magazine recently wrote: “Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are the two most iconic philanthropists in the world, having given away tens of billions to much fanfare. But their role model is Chuck Feeney, a former billionaire who gave away his entire fortune almost completely unnoticed.

“Chuck has set an example,” Buffett said recently. “It’s a real honor to talk about a fellow who is my hero and Bill Gates’ hero. He should be everybody’s hero.”

At the Ireland Fund event held at the St.Francis, Chuck was being thanked for his $1.6 billion he has given to Ireland and transformed so many sectors there as a result. The heads of Limerick and Galway University had traveled out to pay homage as was Irish Consul Philip Grant. Irish education would look entirely different without him.

One of his more recent gifts was $177 million to find a cure for dementia with funds split between Ireland and California. He also gave $100 million to start the new Mission Bay state-of-the-art hospital in San Francisco.

On Friday night he was not wearing a black tie, but rather his favorite Irish cap which he discarded before dinner. His wife Helga, kids and grandkids were there for the occasion as well as extended family.

Little wonder I’ve rarely seen Chuck who I’ve known since 1987, feel so much at home.

Bill Gates appeared on the video congratulating Chuck as the man who led the charge on “Giving While Living.” And for inspiring him.

When Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are your main cheerleaders it’s nice to be Chuck Feeney.

Even nicer was the incredible standing ovation when he was introduced to the packed room. I have rarely heard such a prolonged and heartfelt standing O. Of course Chuck was probably saving up details of the spectacular night for his  16 grand kids.

The good part until very recently he will them them is that he gave it all away anonymously. He says he did so because every anonymous gift ever given he can claim credit for – though that’s a tall tale even a grandchild might figure.

So much of his generosity will never be known. I’ve seen him on plane flights cut out some hard luck story from the newspaper and know a personal cheque was forthcoming that never came under the Atlantic rubric.

Confronted with such goodness I can only do what an Irishman feels obliged to – drag him down.

He steals newspapers from hotels. He is said to boast about what a great tennis player he was but I hear he was lousy. Sometimes he didn’t shine his shoes and carried a plastic bag. Disgraceful I  know.

His wife Helga is a wonderful woman who puts up with him  There’s a special place for her in the annals of Chuck Feeney lore. Warm, considerate and devoted, she deserves her own chapter in the history of philanthrophy.

You can always tell there's mischief by the wink of his right eye when he's about to have some fun.

Ireland Fund Chairman John FitzPatrick and CEO Kieran McLoughlin paid fulsome tribute to the quiet character seated as usual, anonymously in the hall. Each time the praise got fulsome I saw that wink appear.

He doesn't take himself seriously but he takes his mission seriously indeed, Last night was a moment for the Irish in America to give back a little to a most extraordinary man.

They did him proud. As he said himself when asked to speak “my cup runneth over.”

Ours did too.  

Chuck Feeney