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Elisabeth Murdoch, Patron, Mother of Rupert, Dies at 103

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, one of Australia’s leading philanthropists and the mother of News Corp. (NWSA) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, has died. She was 103.

She died yesterday at her home near Melbourne, according to a statement from News Corp. No cause was given. She had suffered a fall there in September, the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp., reported.

“Dame Elisabeth was absolutely a remarkable person,” Lachlan Murdoch, her grandson and chairman of Australian broadcaster Ten Network Holdings Ltd. (TEN), said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Sydney today. She was “the closest person to a saint, in my view. I think she lived a beautiful life and a very meaningful life and she passed away peacefully.”

Murdoch devoted her life to numerous causes, including Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital and the National Gallery of Victoria. She supported more than 110 charities well past the age of 90.

“My life’s been so full,” she was quoted as saying in Neil Chenoweth’s 2001 book about her son, “Virtual Murdoch.” “I think that’s been fortunate, but that’s something to do with one’s nature. I don’t waste time.”

Wool Trade

Elisabeth Joy Greene was born on Feb. 8, 1909, in Melbourne. She grew up in an affluent Anglo-Irish family with ties to the British Empire’s wool trade. At a dinner dance as an 18-year-old debutante, she met war correspondent Keith Murdoch, 42, the editor of Melbourne’s influential newspaper The Herald.

Photographer: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch attends an Australia Day reception in Melbourne on Jan. 21, 2010. Close

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch attends an Australia Day reception in Melbourne on Jan. 21, 2010.

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Photographer: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch attends an Australia Day reception in Melbourne on Jan. 21, 2010.

Defying social convention, she married the older man a year later. “My marriage really did open up so many other opportunities,” she said in the 1994 biography, “Elisabeth Murdoch: Two Lives,” by John Monks.

As a wedding gift, Keith Murdoch bought her Cruden Farm, a 90-acre estate near Melbourne, where Elisabeth resided. At Cruden and the family’s city mansion, she entertained her husband’s business partners, prime ministers, artists, musicians and international visitors.

She also accompanied him on trips to the U.S. and Europe, meeting Sir Winston Churchill and Pope Pius XII.

Elisabeth Murdoch had a strong sense of moral values, manners, obligation and duty, according to Monks. She taught her four children not to take anything for granted.

Dog Paddle

On a Pacific crossing when Rupert was young, she threw the boy into the deep end of the ship’s swimming pool and wouldn’t let anyone rescue him, forcing him to dog paddle to safety to learn to swim, according to the Chenoweth biography.

“We have lost the most wonderful mother but we are all grateful to have had her love and wisdom for so many years,” Rupert Murdoch said in a statement on behalf of the extended family. “Throughout her life, our mother demonstrated the very best qualities of true public service.”

She was both proud and “slightly embarrassed” of her son’s business success. Rupert, who is 81 and worth $10.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, inherited an Adelaide newspaper after Keith’s death in 1952 and built up a global media empire, including Britain’s Sun newspaper, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and Fox television in the U.S.

New York-based News Corp. has tried to move past the controversy sparked by the exposure of illegal reporting tactics and alleged cover-up that led to arrests of 80 people, including Rebekah Brooks, the former top executive of the company’s U.K. publisher, and the demise of the U.K. tabloid News of the World.

‘Useful Citizens’

“What is more important to me is that my family are caring and useful citizens,” Murdoch said in a 2005 interview on state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp. “To my mind, that’s how you measure their success.”

Using her wealth and time to support benevolent causes earned her widespread respect in Australia.

Elisabeth Murdoch was asked to join the Royal Children’s Hospital’s management committee in 1933 and was its president from 1954 to 1965. In 1986, she helped establish the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, which looks into the prevention and treatment of infant health problems.

“Australia has lost an amazing Australian woman,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement today. “Her example of kindness, humility and grace was constant. She was not only generous, she led others to generosity.”

Good Causes

Murdoch was also the first female trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria and a fellow of the Australian chapter of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts. She was a patron of the Deafness Foundation of Victoria and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, which has woven tapestries for Parliament House in Canberra and the Sydney Opera House.

“Dame Elisabeth was an inspiration to generations of Australians and a friend and supporter of many good causes in the community,” Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said in an e-mailed statement. “Her generous philanthropy will stand as one of her enduring legacies.”

Highest Merit

Murdoch was honored as a Companion of the Order of Australia, the nation’s highest merit, for her work as a patron of the arts. She also received an honorary degree of doctor of laws at University of Melbourne for her public service, and was named Victorian of the Year in 2005. Queen Elizabeth II in 1963 made her Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her work with the Royal Children’s Hospital.

“I’d like to feel that I made a difference to a lot of people’s lives,” Murdoch said in the Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview.

She and Keith had four children: Rupert, Anne Kantor, Janet Calvert-Jones and Helen Handbury, who died in 2004, according to News Corp. She is survived by 77 direct descendants including 50 great-grandchildren and six great-great grandchildren. Her grandchildren include James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of News Corp., and her namesake, who founded London-based television production company Shine Group.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nichola Saminather in Sydney at nsaminather1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Malcolm Scott at mscott23@bloomberg.net; Charles W. Stevens at cstevens@bloomberg.net

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