In recognition of Dan Rooney’s three years of service as Ambassador for the United States in Ireland, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the Irish American with the Chief of Mission flag, and the flag of the United States honoring his successful tenure in Ireland.

This December Rooney announced his retirement from his Dublin post having been appointed by President Obama in March 2009. Now aged 80, Rooney has officially stepped down from his Phoenix Park office in advance of changes to the United States diplomatic corps with the inauguration of President Obama for a second term.

Clinton spoke briefly at the White House Flag Ceremony before presenting Rooney with the flags. Clinton returned to work on Monday after a month’s absence due to a blood clot found near her brain. She spoke to the crowd about her staff’s fitting returning gift - an American football helmet and shirt.

She said, “They told me it was a welcome-back gift, but I suspect they also were thinking about the fact that you would be here in a few days, and we wanted to make you feel right at home.”

Clinton referred to Rooney as a “dream ambassador,” commenting on “the depth of his lifelong experience on behalf of Irish-American relations.”

She continued, saying he spent decades building ties between the United States and Ireland through the American Ireland Fund, which he co-founded. It’s also partly because of his willingness to go to extraordinary lengths to get the job done.

Read more: Ambassador Rooney says his goodbyes after three years as Obama’s man in Ireland

“Dan Rooney was the first U.S. Ambassador to visit all 32 counties in Ireland and its outer islands, including remote places that can only be reached at certain times of year and then only by ferry or puddle-jumper. Often, it was Dan himself at the controls of the plane.”

Accepting the flags Rooney recalled that Clinton had asked him to “strengthen the friendship and ties between Ireland and the United States” and “to keep special watch on the peace process.”

He said, “I believe this is what we did…I worked to strengthen the bonds between the American people and the people of Ireland. It took me to every county in Ireland, 32, as you mentioned. And I learned so much from everyone I met. I was also constantly reminded of the deep love and affection the Irish people have for you and your husband. The people of Ireland are aware of your commitment and sacrifices on behalf of peace and reconciliation.”

The former ambassador commented on the “remarkable times” in Ireland he lived through during his tenure.

“Who would have imagined that we would live to see Martin McGuinness take – shake hands with the Queen? At your direction, I worked with those in the loyalist community who have not fully felt the benefits of peace…The peace in the north is still a process. It’s an ongoing effort. But we have hope. Things are better and they will continue to get better despite the issues needing to be resolved.”

He ended saying, “I am an American of Irish heritage. Ireland has always been special to me, and I have a deep love for the Irish people. I have had a lifelong commitment to advancing the relationship between the American and the Irish people. I thank you and President Obama for your trust and the privilege of serving as Ambassador to the United States. This flag will remind us of our time in Dublin.”

Also in attendance at the ceremony were Rooney’s wife Patricia and his granddaughter Sarah. During her speech Clinton also congratulated Patricia on her efforts to reach out to the Irish community during her stay and praised the couple’s work as a team.

Read more: U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney’s daughter dies in tragic fashion

She said, “Together, you showed the people of Ireland in a powerful, personal way how much Americans value our friendship with them.”

The Secretary of State also applauded Rooney’s integrity, warmth and good humor.

“He doesn’t give you his business card; he gives you a Steelers pin. His pockets are full of them. He lines up his multiple cell phones on his desk, makes calls all day long, moving from timezone to timezone, staying on top of the news, spreading good cheer to Dublin, Washington, Pittsburgh, everywhere he has friends, and that’s across the world,” Clinton said.

She went on to list the excellent results which Rooney’s team at the embassy have reaped. She said, “Our relationship, as the Taoiseach told me, has never been stronger. And I wanted to pass that on to you.

“We’ve increased trade and investment between our countries. The US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership has been reinvigorated. We helped support Ireland in hosting a successful OSCE ministerial and to begin its EU presidency this month. We worked closely, even more so, with Ireland on security and peace, development and human rights. And of course, what Dan would call the Super Bowl of his tenure, President Obama visited Ireland and had a fabulous trip where he really demonstrated the depth of his commitment to the relationship.”

The Rooney family suffered the tragic and sudden loss of their daughter Rita in December. Rooney thanks Hillary Clinton for the personal call she made to the family and the friendship she had shown.

Although now aged 80, Rooney has pledged that he will return to work as Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.