Dame Elisabeth Murdoch dies

2012-12-06 11:05
News Corporation Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, left, walks alongside his mother Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at the opening of a new newspaper office building named after his father Keith Murdoch, in Adelaide, in 2005. (File, AP)

News Corporation Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, left, walks alongside his mother Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at the opening of a new newspaper office building named after his father Keith Murdoch, in Adelaide, in 2005. (File, AP)

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Sydney - The death of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, a woman almost as old as Australia itself, leaves the nation without its most generous philanthropist and the Murdoch family without its matriarch.

She died on Wednesday aged 103 in the Melbourne home she had lived in for 80 years.

"Her energy and personal commitment made our country a more hopeful place and she will be missed by many," News Corporation chairperson Rupert Murdoch, aged 81, said in a statement.

He thanked those who had sent their condolences, describing Dame Elisabeth as a "great lady, wife, mother and citizen".

A decade ago the Murdoch matriarch told a reporter she was "the busiest old lady in Melbourne" - an energy not just reflected in a magnificent garden that she opened to the public to raise money for the more than 100 charities she supported but in the sponsorships, scholarships and prizes she awarded as well as the buildings, research establishments and hospital wards that bear her name.

"Australia has lost an amazing woman," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. "Her example of kindness, humility and grace was constant. She was not only generous, she led others to generosity."

Widow for more than half her life

Dame Elisabeth was old school: She steered clear of the celebrity lifestyle that might have made her fair game for the pages of a News Corporation tabloid.

Content to let the menfolk look after the business, she was a widow for more than half her life.

She was 18 when she married budding newspaper proprietor Keith Murdoch; he was 42 years old.

"I remember being tremendously attracted because there was something very compelling about his eyes," she said of meeting her future husband and partner for 24 years of marriage. "He had beautiful dark brown eyes and I suppose there was something in the alchemy."

A wedding present was 54-hectare Cruden Farm, the outer Melbourne property that became the fulcrum of Murdoch family life and the cultural anchorage for her hyper-ambitious son.

When News Corporation moved its domicile from Australia to the United States in 2004, Rupert Murdoch said: "News Corp will always be defined by an Australian spirit because it's from Australia that this company derives its entrepreneurial energy, its brashness and often, in the corridors of our New York offices, our accents."

Generous

Dame Elisabeth leaves four surviving children among 77 direct descendants.

In what was taken by some as a slight on her deal-making son, Dame Elisabeth once remarked that "making money is not greatness".

Yet it was mostly her fortune - and how generous she was with it - that gave her a public profile.

"We feel the loss intensely because she was the wife of Sir Keith Murdoch and mother of our chairperson, Rupert Murdoch, both towering figures in our national story and the builders of our own media heritage here at News," said Kim Williams, head of the Australian arm of News Corporation.

Widowed at 43 - on his father's death, Rupert cut short his studies at Oxford University to take over the running of the family business - Dame Elisabeth channelled her energies into the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne and plans for its relocation.

She was made a dame the day Queen Elizabeth II opened the hospital.

Jeff Kennett, a former premier of the state of Victoria, said he had never known Dame Elisabeth say a cross word about anyone.

"She had a dignity and serenity around her so when she entered a room ... you knew there was someone special in the room," he told reporters.

- SAPA

Read more on:    rupert murdoch  |  australia
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