Matriarch of Murdoch's media empire dies at 103

Updated: 2012-12-07 10:43

(Agencies/China Daily)

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Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, matriarch of the Murdoch media empire and mother of News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch, was both an inspiration and outspoken critic of her tumultuous family and balm to some of its excesses.

A philanthropist and tireless charity worker regarded for years in her homeland as a national treasure, Murdoch died on Wednesday night at her sprawling home outside Melbourne, a city she loved for its genteel culture, aged 103.

Matriarch of Murdoch's media empire dies at 103

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and her son News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch attend the opening of a newspaper office building in Adelaide, Australia, on Nov 16, 2005. Dame Elisabeth died on Wednesday at her home outside Melbourne. [Photo/Agencies] 

"Throughout her life, our mother demonstrated the very best qualities of true public service," Rupert Murdoch, 82, said in a statement issued by News Ltd, the Australian arm of News Corp.

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

Murdoch was a uniting force in both the community and within her family, where she would often voice concerns to her publisher son over his brand of journalism, including racy exclusives on celebrities and a partisan stance on politics.

"We don't always see eye-to-eye or agree, but we do respect each other's opinions and I think that's important," she told Australian television ahead of her 100th birthday in 2009.

"I think the kind of journalism and the tremendous invasion of people's privacy, I don't approve of that," she said.

Murdoch's death comes at the end of a tumultuous year for News Corp, with the company under attack over phone hacking in Britain. There are also tensions among those in line to one day replace Rupert Murdoch at the head of the company.

Harold Mitchell, a major figure in Australia's advertising industry who has done charity work alongside Murdoch, said Dame Elisabeth was deeply respected. "I always found she was a great force in binding together many parts of the community and all people within her influence, and I'm sure she had that same affect on her family," Mitchell said.

Equal to the zeal with which the Murdoch publishing empire has defended its news-gathering methods, the far-flung Murdoch clan has also worked hard to mask its own differences - including rivalries between Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth, and his sons James and Lachlan - over the company's leadership and direction.

Elisabeth, 44, a prominent television businesswoman, was critical of her brother James' stubbornness during the phone hacking scandal, the New Yorker magazine reported this month, while Lachlan always bristled over his father's close supervision and left News Corp in 2005.

"He moved to Australia, and although he remains on the News Corp board, he has busied himself with his own media investments. James, the youngest, became the new heir, but he has always resented that Lachlan was their father's favorite," the magazine said.

Family focus

Dame Elisabeth, with her forthright but graceful criticism and focus on family, was always able to draw warring family members back together, including after Rupert's divorce from Anna Murdoch and marriage to Wendi Deng in 1999.

Murdoch, who would have been 104 in January, is survived by 77 direct descendants, including three children, Anne Kantor, Janet Calvert-Jones and Rupert. Her eldest child, Helen Handbury, died in 2004.

Her work as a philanthropist earned her civil honours in her native Australia and Britain. She was made a dame in 1963 for her work with a Melbourne hospital. While her son remains a divisive figure, she was widely admired across the political divide.