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Dame Elisabeth Murdoch: A rich and generous life

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch: A rich and generous life
Her care went beyond writing cheques for the hundred plus charities she supported - she backed up her generous giving with a loving mix of humility, grace and kindness.

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch has been remembered for her life which she lived "always in full bloom". Glenn Williams tells about the lady who was always quick with a smile and a kind word.

Her generous heart was way bigger than her immense wealth. Dame Elisabeth Murdoch devoted her long and extraordinary life to giving. For this dearly loved, cheery soul, life was never about her, it was always about making things better for others.

Her care went beyond writing cheques for the hundred plus charities she supported - she backed up her generous giving with a loving mix of humility, grace and kindness. Nothing gave Dame Elisabeth more joy than being able to offer a kind and practical helping hand. The grand dame probably said it best: “I do not believe in giving handouts to people, but I most certainly believe in giving people a hand up in life.”

Born Elisabeth Joy Greene in Melbourne on February 8, 1909, Elisabeth was educated at St Catherine’s School in Toorak and at Clyde School in Woodend. She met the man of her dreams, Keith Murdoch, at a dance and it was love at first sight. Keith had first taken notice of Elisabeth when he saw her debutante photograph in the newspaper. He was determined to meet her, but Elisabeth was at the dance with someone else, so didn’t get to dance with Keith that night.

She later recalled being struck by “those strong, strong eyes.” She said she couldn’t stop staring at the man – she was only 19 and Keith was 42. The next day, a smitten Keith telephoned and the pair enjoyed a chaperoned date to Portsea. And so would begin an enduring love story until Keith’s death. “I’m so grateful that we had nearly 25 years of such happiness in which we had those four lovely children,” she told journalist Andrew Denton.

She married her newspaper publisher Keith in 1928, and Dame Nellie Melba was among the glittering guests. She became Lady Murdoch when her husband became Sir Keith in 1933. Elisabeth went on to inherit the bulk of Sir Keith’s wealth when he died in 1952. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1963 and fondly became known as Dame Elisabeth.

A devoted mother to four children, including News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch, she was renowned for her cheery disposition and a generous nature. She worked tirelessly, giving her time and money to over 100 non-profit organisations, including medical research institutes, welfare and arts groups.

She was particularly passionate about the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Ballet and the Melbourne Recital Centre, where the main hall is named in her honour. But it was the Royal Children’s Hospital that well and truly stole her heart. For more than 75 years she supported the hospital, wanting it to be the best in the country.

Turning the grand old age of 103 in February, Dame Elisabeth celebrated at the Melbourne Recital Centre, where she was named a Freewoman of the City, the highest honour bestowed by the City of Melbourne.

Dame Elisabeth enjoyed robust health until she fell at her home in September, breaking her leg. She died peacefully at her Cruden Farm home near Frankston, southeast of Melbourne late on the evening of Wednesday, December 6.

She is survived by her children Rupert, Jane and Anne, and by 77 descendants. Dame Elisabeth’s eldest child, Helen, passed away in 2004. The Grand Dame will be sadly missed.

Realted video: Dame Elisabeth Murdoch praised.

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