Australia has lost one of its greatest exemplars of a life well lived: the beloved Dame Elisabeth Murdoch has died peacefully in her home, aged 103.
The Murdoch family matriarch led life according to a noble moral code – how can I best serve others? – and she did so with great humility, believing it to be “her great good fortune to help.”
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. Photo via The Herald Sun.
“One’s chief obligation is to think about other people and how one can help,” she once told an interviewer, and accordingly she contributed her time and money to over 110 charities, serving on the board of the Children’s Hospital for over 33 years and was instrumental in setting up the Murdoch Institute of Research.
Born in Melbourne on February 8, 1909, Elisabeth Greene began her life’s work of philanthropy early – as a teenager she knitted woolen singlets for sick babies and as a reward was given a tour of the Children’s Hospital.
It was a turning point. Upset by what she saw, “I set my sights on serving there,”
“I thought then that I would like to do my best for the Children’s Hospital, but I didn’t dream it would be such a very important task.”
At the age of 18 Elisabeth met Keith Murdoch, 42, and it was “love at first sight.” They married within a year, after much resistance from her family about marrying a much older man. Her new husband, a newspaperman, bought her Cruden Farm in Langwarrin as a wedding present.
It would become the cherished country hub for the burgeoning Murdoch family: the Murdoch’s four children Helen, Rupert, Anne and Janet and their many children and grandchildren.
When Keith Murdoch died at Cruden Farm 23 years after they were married, Dame Elisabeth moved there permanently and began her life’s other great work – creating magnificent gardens on her 55 hectare estate.
Dame Elisabeth credited her mother for imbuing in her a sense of community: “My mother was thoughtful and generous and kind to other people and anybody in need. She was a very good example to me about caring for others.”
She also learnt from her the parenting template of “loving discipline” – a belief that parents should be affectionate but also strong around discipline. Too many parents, she once said, were very loving but were indulgent and that many children “have far too many things.”
“The world is full of good people,” said Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. Photo via The Age.
How she reconciled this attitude with a son who is now one of the richest and acquisitive men in the world was a private matter, but she did speak out publicly against the kind of journalism her son’s newspapers engaged in, the “tremendous invasion of people’s privacy.”
As for her famed philanthropy, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch believed it was “too easy” just to give away money, and nothing to be proud of.
“You must become involved,” she once said. “It is perfectly easy to give money away but it is being involved, being committed to the work that is important.
“It is very rewarding, and there are so many wonderful people running these charities, selfless people who are giving up their time,”
“The world is full of good people.”
Yesterday, in country Victoria, the world lost one of its very best. And as Tamie Fraser wondered as she joined the throng of tributes from around the nation, will we see her like again?