Media matriarch and philanthropist Dame Elisabeth Murdoch dies at 103

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, mother of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, has died at her home outside Melbourne, Australia, at the age of 103.

The matriarch of the world’s most prominent media family was well-known in Australia for her philanthropy, and she remained active late into her life.

News Corp. confirmed her death Wednesday.

“Throughout her life, our mother demonstrated the very best qualities of true public service,” Rupert Murdoch said in a statement published in the News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal. “Her energy and personal commitment made our country a more hopeful place and she will be missed by many.”


PHOTOS: Notable deaths of 2012

She was born Elisabeth Joy Greene in Melbourne on Feb. 8, 1909, the daughter of a wool trader of Scottish descent. She began volunteer work while still in school, knitting clothing for babies in an area hospital. But her life changed dramatically in 1927 after a 42-year-old newspaper editor and former prominent war correspondent, Keith Murdoch, saw the 18-year-old debutante photographed in the gossip magazine Table Talk. A whirlwind courtship began, culminating with the couple’s marriage in 1928.

They had four children. Their only son, Keith Rupert Murdoch, was born in 1931.

Her husband was knighted in 1933, making her Lady Murdoch. In 1944, when fire threatened the family’s homestead, Cruden Farm, Lady Murdoch drove back from Melbourne to help maids evacuate the children and fight the flames, according to a chronology of her life provided by News Corp.

Her husband died in 1952, leaving Lady Murdoch to raise the couple’s children. She sold some media holdings to resolve tax obligations, but 21-year-old Rupert took over his late father’s Adelaide News. The Australian paper provided the foundation of a global empire that now produces $33 billion a year in revenue, and includes the Wall Street Journal, Times of London and Fox News Channel.

In 1963, Lady Murdoch was appointed a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen. She is said to have strenuously protested her son’s purchase in 1968 of the London tabloid the News of the World, saying (quite prophetically, as it turned out) that it would lead to trouble. However, out of respect, none of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian tabloids would print the topless Page 3 girls that were calling cards of the News of the World.

She was actively involved in philanthropy for the next five decades, supporting dozens of charities, and was generous to the arts, including the development of Australian ballet, mental health and children’s health causes. Four years ago, her likeness appeared on an Australian postal stamp. Cruden Farm became a showpiece of landscape gardening and often was open to the public.

PHOTOS: Notable deaths of 2012

After a serious fall in September, she was visited by her son in the hospital during his two-week stay in Australia.

She died Wednesday at Cruden Farm. Besides her media mogul son, other survivors include two daughters, Anne Kantor and Janet Calvert-Jones, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her first-born, Helen Murdoch Handbury, died in 2004. The Courier-Mail of Brisbane said she was survived by about 77 direct descendants.

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