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The 76-year-old, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year, told guests at Queenstown Resort College he was "overcome".
"Certainly, I’ll tell you what, it makes you feel like cancer hasn’t got a bloody chance.
"When you’ve got good people around like this, the little bugger didn’t know who he was taking on, did he?"
There are just 53 distinguished fellows in New Zealand, or 0.5% of the institute’s 9600 members.
Institute chief executive Kirsten Patterson said they formed a "rare and illustrious" part of the organisation, being limited to no more than 2% of the membership.
"The IoD exists to support directors as they guide companies, organisations and community groups to success.
"Sir Eion has had a remarkable life that has touched people in each of these."
At the presentation — attended by about 70 people, including former prime minister Jim Bolger and Allied Press owners Sir Julian Smith and Nicholas Smith — Sir Eion’s extensive business, community, education and sporting interests and achievements were traversed.
Sir Stephen Tindall told guests Sir Eion was "the definition of philanthropy in New Zealand".
"There are a couple of people in the world that I’ve looked up to, in terms of philanthropy, and one is the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates.
"But when I think about New Zealand, the person that I’ve always looked up to is Sir Eion.
"On behalf of all of us, thank you so much for what you’ve done."
New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said dreams could only become realities if they were supported and there were people and resources there to make that happen.
"You, Sir Eion and Lady Jan, have done that for the Olympic and Commonwealth sports, and for the athletes of New Zealand Aotearoa.
"You have led, invested supported and championed what is good about sport, and the difference it makes to people’s lives."
Sir Eion said later it had been "quite emotional".
"[But] an occasion like this is much better than a funeral, so I’m winning.
"I’m planning to be around for some time.
"I’m feeling better than I was and, certainly, days like this make you feel even better.
"The ’24 Olympics are sounding like a good idea."