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Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Passes Away at 103

|Dec 6|magazine9 min read

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, the matriarch of the powerful Murdoch media empire and one of Australia’s most beloved philanthropists, passed away at her home outside Melbourne yesterday. She was 103.

A patron of more than 100 causes and charities, Elisabeth, or “The Dame” as Victorians affectionately called her, was the first female trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria, presided over The Royal Children’s Hospital and became a patron of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, in addition to numerous other organisations spanning disability care, the Australian Ballet, the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, academia, substance abuse and prison work.

The former debutante met her husband, publisher Keith Murdoch, at age 18 when her photograph appeared in his newspaper. Keith, then 42, was entranced by her and they wed in 1928. His wedding present to Elisabeth was Cruden Farm, a 62-hectare estate on which she resided for the rest of her life.

After Keith’s death in 1952, Elisabeth sold his Queensland press acquisitions, transferring the family’s holdings in the newspaper industry to her son Rupert, who later bought out his mother and three sisters to build his own media empire. According to many reporters, Elisabeth was not shy about publically criticising her son’s business and personal decisions.

Her work in the arts was honoured with a Companion of the Order of Australia, and she received an honorary degree of doctor of laws at the University of Melbourne for her public service efforts. Queen Elizabeth II made her Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1963, and in 2005, at age 96, she was named Victorian of the Year.

Dame Elisabeth will be remembered across Australia and the world for her kind nature and giving spirit:

Former premier Jeff Kennett told ABC, "I can assure you that for every one [of her causes] that will be noted today, tomorrow, there are literally dozens of organisations and people she has assisted. She also leaves us a legacy of absolute goodness, in so many ways, just by the way in which she conducted her life."

"Australia has lost an amazing Australian woman," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement. “Dame Elisabeth Murdoch lived a great Australian life. Her example of kindness, humility and grace was constant. She was not only generous, she led others to generosity. Australia's children and Australia's artists have lost one of their greatest benefactors."

Rupert Murdoch paid tribute to his mother via Twitter earlier today, saying "Many thanks for condolences about my mum. A great lady wife, mother and citizen.”

She is survived by her son Rupert and daughters Anne Kantor and Janet Calvert-Jones, as well as 50 great-grandchildren and six great-great grandchildren. Her eldest daughter, Helen Handbury, predeceased her in 2004.