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Murdoch matriarch devoted to charity work

06 december 2012, 14:17
0
Elisabeth Murdoch. Photo courtesy of heraldsun.com.au
Elisabeth Murdoch. Photo courtesy of heraldsun.com.au
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch was not just a leading philanthropist but also matriarch of one of the world's most powerful families and a key confidant to son Rupert as he built his global media empire, AFP reports.

Dame Elisabeth, who died late Wednesday aged 103, was born five years before the start of World War I and grew up in Melbourne, the youngest of three daughters to her parents Rupert and Marie Greene.

She was just 19 when she became engaged to 42-year-old newsman Keith Murdoch, a war correspondent and editor who was on close terms with Australian and British prime ministers.

The 25-year love affair, which lasted until his death in 1952, produced four children -- Helen, Rupert, Anne and Janet.

Dame Elisabeth was close to them all and talked often with Rupert -- whose News Corporation includes The Times and The Sun in Britain, the Wall Street Journal and the Fox Broadcasting Company -- and while they did not always agree, they respected each other's ideas.

According to her son's flagship The Australian newspaper on Thursday, Rupert "made few moves in his worldwide media empire without telling Dame Elisabeth in advance".

"Oh, I express my views very strongly and Rupert listens to them. Sometimes he takes my advice but on the whole you just have to, I think, maintain your views without insisting that somebody else accepts them," she once said.

Despite being head of a family worth billions, "To Dame Elisabeth, mention of her family wealth was vulgar", The Australian said, adding that instead of a life of luxury with chauffeurs and servants she had lived simply with her housekeeper-companion Queenie.

"I think if you've got money it's perfectly easy to give it away and nothing to be particularly proud of... but it's very rewarding when you feel that you are making a difference to the lives of other people," she had said.

Dame Elisabeth felt that having so much money could be a "tremendous tool" to help the community.

"People say to me sometimes, 'You must be very proud of Rupert' and I know what they mean," she said.

"They think he's made a lot of money and I say, 'I am very proud of him because he's a good father and a good son.' And that's what I'm proud of. Not so proud of his wealth."

In celebrating his mother's 100th birthday, Rupert said many people's lives had benefited from her love and wisdom while others had been touched by her generosity.

"For each of us, you are a symbol of what is good and beautiful and big-hearted about our country," he said.

Dame Elisabeth supported everything from rehabilitating prisoners and helping those with mental illness, to academia, the arts and medical research.

Over the decades, her support has aided scores of organisations including the Australian Ballet, the Botanic Gardens, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop.

Despite turning 100 in 2009, the great-grandmother remained involved in the work for which she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 1963.

She never remarried after husband Keith died, devoting herself instead to charitable causes such as Melbourne's Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, of which she was a founding member in 1984, and the Royal Children's Hospital.

But some of her happiest years were with Keith, which allowed her insights into some of the world's most powerful figures.

"I always remember going across the Atlantic with Winston Churchill on board and he was up all night practically, playing cards and drinking and so forth and I said to Keith, 'Why is this man considered great when he has these awful faults?'," Dame Elisabeth told an interviewer in 2008.

"He said, 'I've met a lot of great people and the greatest of them very often have the greatest faults.' And I think that's true."

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