Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE died on 5 December at the age of 103.
A leading philanthropist Dame Elisabeth was also a warm and caring person. She gave of her money but also of her time and energy, supporting numerous organisations and individuals: women and children, the disabled and the broad spectrum of the arts. Most of us will have been touched, in some way, by her generosity.
In an interview with Andrew Denton just before her 100th birthday Dame Elisabeth said that whilst it was easy to give money away, true philanthropy demanded commitment and active involvement. Its aim was to make a difference to the lives of others, and she practised what she preached.
In his tribute to Dame Elisabeth Professor Barry Conyngham AM, Dean, Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music The University of Melbourne said:
“Dame Elisabeth’s personal involvement at performances, exhibitions and concerts was hugely important to our community of artists at the VCA and The Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship has helped launch the professional careers of many of our art, music and theatre graduates.”
– Barry Conyngham AM
Raimondo Cortese, a playwright who studied at the VCA and will be teaching their new Master of Writing for Performance in 2013, won the The Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship in 2001. Speaking with me by phone he says that although he only met Dame Elisabeth three times, he remembers well her incredible warmth.
She reached out and clasped my hand in in both of hers and I thought Oh My God here’s this woman giving me all this money!
– Raimondo Cortese
She had a wonderful twinkle in her eye and a genuine interest in and excitement about what could be achieved through the arts.
Maud Clark, Artistic Director of Somebody’s Daughter Theatre Company also remembers Dame Elisabeth’s generosity. The company works with women in prison and post release as well as marginalised young people to produce high quality theatre, music and art. Already in her 80s Dame Elisabeth attended one of their performances and on a cold winters night stood in line with everyone else. When Clark told her how privileged they were to have her in attendance her response was, “No, I’m the one who is privileged.”
Dame Elisabeth had time for everyone and made them feel special whoever they were … She supported us in many more ways than financial ones.
– Maud Clark AM
Whilst those who knew her personally will miss her warm presence and loud, even vulgar laugh (her words when speaking with Andrew Denton) her legacy will live on in the organisations she supported and the individuals she touched.
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch will be honoured with a state memorial service in Melbourne on December 18. Tthe service will be held at 11am (AEDT) at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne and will be broadcast live in Federation Square.