NEW YORK — Dame Elisabeth Murdoch — the 103-year-old mother of the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, the widow of an Australian newspaper baron, and one of her nation’s most noted philanthropists — died Wednesday at her estate near Melbourne. Rupert Murdoch announced her death.
Elisabeth Joy Greene was a teenager, a shy, obedient girl of privilege, rail thin and fashionably coifed (though not long out of pigtails), when she was introduced to Keith Murdoch in 1927. He was 42, a wealthy, famous, and worldly news- paperman destined to become one of Australia’s foremost publishers. He had seen her debutante picture in a society magazine and had come courting.
Months later, in June 1928, they were married. She was 19. As a wedding present he gave her a sprawling estate at Langwarrin, near Australia’s southeast coast. They called it Cruden Farm, after the ancestral parish of his Scottish forebears, and it became the seat of family life for generations.
While her husband amassed a newspaper and radio empire in Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane, and became a political power-broker, she gave birth to four children: Helen in 1929; Rupert in 1931; Anne in 1936; and Janet in 1939.
She reared them with what she called ‘‘loving discipline,’’ to discourage materialism, especially in the headstrong Rupert. She sent him for eight years to Geelong Grammar, a boarding school near Melbourne that imposed a military regimen and canings. He was bullied, teased, and decidedly unhappy, but his mother was firm.
‘‘I was never indulgent with them because my husband was inclined to be a bit indulgent, so I had to swing the other way,’’ she told Frances Jones last year. ‘‘They all grew up to appreciate my attitude about material things.’’
She was also sensitive to her husband’s self-indulgences. During the Depression, when the Murdochs hired men desperate for work to build stables and outbuildings at the farm, she was aghast when Sir Keith drove up in a Rolls-Royce. She ordered him to return it.
For decades, according to The Australian, a national broadsheet, she refused to have heating in the house, resisted hairdressers, and one year gave up a trip abroad to pay for a pool in the garden.
Dame Elisabeth, who was styled Lady Elisabeth when her husband was knighted in 1933 and Dame Elisabeth when she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1963, said her philanthropies were inspired by Sir Keith, a trustee of national museums and galleries. He died in 1952.