Dame Elisabeth passes away at 103

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch has passed away peacefully at her home in Langwarrin at the age of 103.

In a statement, her son, News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch said his mother would be mourned by thousands of Australians who had been touched by her long life.

''We have lost the most wonderful mother but we are all grateful to have had her love and wisdom for so many years,'' he said in a statement on behalf of her extended family.

''Throughout her life, our mother demonstrated the very best qualities of true public service.

''Her energy and personal commitment made our country a more hopeful place and she will be missed by many.''

The philanthropist and matriarch was surrounded by her family at her home at Cruden Farm, set on more than 54 hectares in Melbourne’s outer southeast.

Her family said details of a memorial service would be confirmed shortly, but her funeral is expected to be a private one.

In lieu of flowers, the Murdoch family is asking for donations to be made to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Six years ago Dame Elisabeth Murdoch became a permanent part of Melbourne. Her face, sculpted in stone, was set in to the steeple during renovations to St Paul's Cathedral and no one was more surprised than the dame herself. It was not something she would have sought but the dean had thought it a good idea. "I don't think anyone will see me," she said modestly. "It's a long way up."

Dame Elisabeth, who died at 103, was a woman without pretensions. When a journalist rang to inquire about the sculpture that day, she answered the phone herself - no private secretary, seemingly not even an answering machine. The dear lady was as polite and cheerful as ever.

Of course the Murdoch matriarch was already well-enshrined in the Yarra village with such landmarks as the Elisabeth Murdoch building at the Victorian College of the Arts and the Elisabeth Murdoch recital hall in Southbank, not to mention the many bursaries and fellowships and scholarships that bore her name.

Mother of media magnate Rupert Murdoch, and widow of earlier media giant Sir Keith Murdoch, Dame Elisabeth was a philanthropist of the old school, quietly helping dozens of causes and charities with minimum fanfare. She was interested in everybody and everything, equally comfortable with a gardener in overalls as she was with a governor-general in full regalia.

Elisabeth was a loving but no-nonsense parent, as the world discovered when her biography came out in 1994. This revealed how Dame Elisabeth had taught her only son to swim - by throwing him into the ship's swimming pool on a voyage from England. "I had to dog-paddle to the side and I was screaming," recalled Rupert. "That was the way to teach you to swim in those days." Despite the massive family wealth, Dame Elisabeth lived a modest life and held what she called "old-fashioned" views on wealth. "I wish people weren't so conscious about material things because they don't really mean a great deal." Of her many grandchildren she said: 'There will be a horrifying amount of money available for them and I do hope they use it properly and wisely."

For media baron Murdoch, his mother was the rock upon which the powerful clan was built. "She's a woman of tremendous values," he says. She was remarkably durable. Approaching her century, the petite matriarch was still getting out and about to theatres and concert halls. She turned up at the Australian Club at age 97 to help launch a new Melba CD. That got a run in the Murdoch press but, alas, without a photograph of the dame - the Murdoch photographer who turned up was too scruffy and was refused entry. Dame Elisabeth was most amused to hear about it, which was another thing about her - jolly good sense of humour.

smh.com.au, with aap

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