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Touching farewell for Aussie millionaire

Written by on May 13, 2024

Advertising millionaire and philanthropist Harold Mitchell has been farewelled in a state funeral, where he has been described as a fearless, funny and provocative industry giant who had a famed hatred of meetings which ran late.

The Melbourne man, who ran one of Australia’s first independent media and advertising companies Mitchell & Partners, died suddenly, aged 81, on February 10 from complications following knee surgery.

Former Victorian premier Daniel Andrews and his wife Catherine, former governor of Victoria Linda Dessau, Melbourne identity Mick Gatto, Patti Newton and businessman Lindsay Fox attended the state memorial service at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall on Monday.

Seven Network chairman Kerry Stokes remembered his business associate as relentless, tough and a visionary.

Mr Stokes recalled the last contact the pair had, a Christmas card last year, in which Mr Stokes shared some “pithy insights on state, national and international leadership and events”.

“(He) reflected on the many moments we had shared together over the years and our friendship … our friendship and hoped to catch up again in the future,” said Mr Stokes in a prerecorded address.

“(Harold wrote): ‘I’m in good spirits and optimistic about life in the world. Here in my 82nd year, there’s plenty to do well there was plenty to do’.”

Mr Stoke said Australia was “poorer” after Mr Mitchell’s death.

“He was a force of nature … a great loss to Australia and to me personally,” Mr Stokes said.

Mr Mitchell’s son Stuart also spoke of his father’s generosity and philanthropic nature, despite financial difficulties in the 1987 during the global stock market crash, which plunged him into debt worth “tens of billions of dollars.

Stuart said he staved off bankruptcy by borrowing money from Kerry Packer and banks, before he paid off his final debt on February 28, 2007.

“For all of you who have benefited from the famous generosity, my father has been giving away millions of dollars to people and causes because you see someone believed him while he was in big debt,” he said.

“The simple fact underlines and proves the truth. In the strength of our father’s two great ambitions: A better life for his family and a better life for the people around the world.”

ABC presenter Virginia Trioli said Mr Mitchell was the “perfect radio guest” and a dear friend.

“He was fearless, funny. He was sly and provocative. He was always prepared to throw a few bolts and he always strayed well beyond his brief,” she said.

Trioli also remembered Mr Mitchell’s hatred of meetings which ran overtime, and said he would leave at the scheduled time.

“He hated to waste time. He hated to waste a minute of his precious life and he ran his meetings the same way,” she said, describing a story of Mr Mitchell’s first board meeting as the chair of the National Gallery of Australia.

“He told the table that his meetings would run for an hour and the room chuckled indulgently because there was no way that was going to happen,” Trioli recalled.

“At the 59 minute mark, the first of several curators were only half way through her presentation when Harold got to his feet.

“He said: ‘Great meeting. See you next month,’ and he was out. From then on all the meetings ran on time.”

East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao also spoke of Mr Mitchell’s support and humanitarian contributions to the country, which earned Mr Mitchell an Order of Timor-Leste in 2023.

The pair became friends in 2003 when Mr Mitchell flew Mr Gusmao to deliver a “poem of peace” at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, following the country’s independence from Indonesian military occupation.

“Harold was a good friend. He never failed to impress me with his wide knowledge of world events,” said Mr Gusmao.

“I think he felt humbled by the ability of our people to forgive and to reach for peace.”

The service also featured a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, under the lead of principal conductor Benjamin Northey.

The Melbourne Timorese Community Choir also performed Kadalak

The piece was a tribute to Mr Mitchell’s long-lasting friendship with the Russian symphony company, the Mariinsky Theatre, and its maestro Valery Gergiev.

A private funeral for Mr Mitchell was held in March, which was attended by Mr Gusmao and the wife of late Australian icon Bert Newton, Patti Newton, media presenter and AFL commentator Eddie McGuire and Melbourne businessman Bill Guest.