It was just an untouched wedge of pecan pie, but to the elderly gentleman flying tourist it represented waste.

It wasn't even his pie, but the man leaned over to the stranger sitting next to him and asked if he planned to eat it.

Once assured it was unwanted, he gingerly wrapped it in a napkin, looked to see if a stewardess was watching and stuffed it in his travel bag.

"I'm Scotch," he said with a twinkle in his eye.

The man was John D. MacArthur, ranked as America's second-richest man and one of the country's two remaining billionaires.

He was on his way from Palm Beach Shores (Florida) to Chicago to celebrate his 80th birthday with some of his 4,000 employees at Bankers Life & Casualty Co. - a mere quarter of the people at a birthday gathering Sunday.

"It should be no wonder to you I use this man's picture to shave by," veteran radio commentator Paul Harvey said of MacArthur to nearly 400 people at a birthday gathering Sunday.

A man famous for his booming command of words, Harvey's voice momentarily wavereed as he said: "He's buttered the toast for the Harveys going on a third generation now. And unashamedly as long as I can I will sit at his feet and learn as much as I'm able to absorb."

Harvey, a trustee of the foundation which holds all the shares of Bankers Life, said MacArthur has taught him several things: "You are never old till your dreams turn gray" and "we get up when we fall down."

He marveled at how MacArthur, who less than four months ago suffered a stroke and is still fighting for full recovery of his speech and right hand, made the effort to fly to Chicago for the event.

For the mind that's used to working out million-dollar deals in a minute now spends that moment concentrating to form his next sentence.

"The unsinkable John MacArthur," Harvey said, shaking his head as he hugged his 30-year friend and business associate.

He read a letter from MacArthur's sister-in-law, actress Helen Hayes, in Mexico, expressing her regret at not being able to join him.

"May all your future birthdays put this one to shame," she wrote, "because my heart tells me that this will be your least happy one."

Someone who did turn out for the ovations Sunday when he haltingly sister, Marguerite Wiley of St. Charies III, who arrived in a wheelchair and is recovering from a broken arm.

While his birthday was really last Sunday, telegrams honoring the occasion were read from the mayor of Chicago, golf pro Jack Nicklaus and comedian Bob Hope.

Dressed in a jacket of the green plaid family tartan, the crusty 80-year-old billionaire received two standing ovations Sunday when he haltingly told the crowd he is on the road to recovery.

It was like a family gathering with nearly everyone wearing the familiar green plaid jackets, his nephew a green plaid kilt. The tablecloth matched. Even the icing on the huge birthday cake was green plaid.

And MacArthur, who loves tradition, had to carry out the Scottist reputation for frugality to the fullest.

From his plate he scraped the leftover bacon and sausage into a cloth napkin and slipped the bundie into his green-plaid pocket.

While he can afford anything he wants, MacArthur, is like that Simplicity. That's his style.

He could buy an airline, but he always flies tourist. "Why pay extra?" he asks.

When leaving the airport in West Palm Beach, he declined an offer from an airline employee to board the plane before other passengers. And he insisted on carrying his own travel bag.

While passengers in the first-class section dined on chicken kiev, America's second richest man munched barbequed chicken with the traveling salesmen and mothers with young children.

Unlike most banquets, at Sunday's there was no head table. MacArthur's table was smack in the middle of all his salesmen. He was led into the room by a bagpipe player dressed from head to knobby knees like a Scotsman.

MacArthur's loyal top employees at Bankers Life smile when they tell tales of "the Skipper" saving fruit from hotel room baskets.

MacArthur's is a typical rags-to-riches story.He admits the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression started him on his way to becoming one of the nation's richest men.

He started out selling insurance policies for $1 or whatever a person had in his pocket. Bankers Life - which he credits with giving him the capital to go into other fields - he picked up when it was bankrupt, for a borrowed $2.500.

The billion-dollar operation is now run by MacArthur from a table in the coffee shop in the Colonnade Beach Hotel in Palm Beach County, Fla.

While his vast holdings include 13 insurance companies, 100,000 acres of land in Florida, 100 per cent of the stock of Illinois' second largest bank, hotels, golf courses, paper mills, farms and 61 buildings in New York City alone, his employees here say they love him for being one of them.

"He is the most common of uncommon men," one man said.