IF RUPERT MURDOCH rules his vast media empire with a firm hand, it is perhaps because he learnt from the best.
Paying tribute to his late mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, at a state memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne on Tuesday, the chairman and chief executive of News Corp said she had taken on the role of disciplinarian in the family because her husband was ''of uncertain health'', much older and given to indulging his children.
''Just let me say that mum pursued that role with none of the angst or self-doubt that consumes so many modern parents,'' he said to laughter from the congregation.
''I still remember vividly a good smack I got for pulling my big sister Helen's pigtails.''
He reminded the congregation that his mother had once described the rose named in her honour as being ''tough as old boots, just like me''.
''For mum, love wasn't soft or mushy,'' he said. ''It was strong and reliable.''
Dame Elisabeth died at her home, Cruden Farm, on the Mornington Peninsula, on December 5, surrounded by members of her extensive family. She was 103.
The much-awarded matriarch of the Murdoch clan was a noted philanthropist who supported more than 100 charities, medical foundations and arts and educational organisations, many of which were represented among the 1200 guests invited to the service by the family.
Also in attendance were former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and John Howard, former treasurer Peter Costello, former premiers Joan Kirner, John Brumby and Jeff Kennett, and the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu.
There were state governors and governors-general. And there were figures from the worlds of entertainment and the media including singer Kamahl, comedian Barry Humphries, the managing director of Channel Nine, Jeffrey Browne, casino and media boss James Packer and, of course, grandson Lachlan Murdoch, the chairman of Ten, with his wife, Sarah.
Despite Dame Elisabeth's well-publicised vow to never meet the woman she blamed for the break-up of her son's second marriage, Rupert Murdoch's third wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, accompanied him to the service.
As the gathering highlighted the place the Murdoch family holds within Australian society, so the accounts of Dame Elisabeth's life offered a reflection of the noblesse oblige she felt that place conferred.
''From a very young age, we knew mum's sense of obligation would mean we were not the only ones who made demands on her,'' her 81-year-old only son said.
Besides the public work she did, there were many instances of quiet giving that largely went unnoticed, he said.
''That was mum's way: doing good by stealth.''
Mr Murdoch said that every night his mother would retire to bed with a pile of papers and letters from people seeking her help.
''Come morning, she would sit with her fountain pen at the kitchen table and write personal letters to all those who had written to her,'' he said.
The Right Reverend Andrew St John, rector of the Church of the Transfiguration in New York, said Dame Elisabeth's philanthropy ''was intelligent, informed and wholehearted''.
''St Paul wrote that God loves a cheerful giver,'' he said, ''and she was certainly that.''
Mr Kennett spoke of the woman he first met when he was just ''four or five'' and who had become a close friend. Just two weeks before she broke her leg in a fall at her home, she had him and his wife, Felicity, to lunch.
Mr Kennett spoke of their shared love of gardening, saying she enjoyed ''actually putting your hands in the soil, staying connected to Mother Earth''.
Her approach to giving was much the same, he said - hands-on and deeply connected.
''I'm not comfortable with the word that's so often used about Dame Elisabeth, that she was a 'wonderful philanthropist','' Mr Kennett said. ''Of course she was. But to me philanthropy is so often just giving money. She was very generous but Dame Elisabeth gave more than that. She gave of herself, to every organisation that she became part of.''
She had, he said, ''a generosity of spirit rarely seen … Her example for living will be something that we can only aspire to achieve and I suspect none of us will do so''.
For all the talk of gardening and giving, Rupert Murdoch said no one could say they truly knew his mother if they did not understand one fact above all others.
It was, he said, ''the truth she repeated constantly through her long life - 'The most satisfying thing I ever did was to marry my husband'''.
Elisabeth Greene was just 19 when she wed the war journalist turned media boss Keith Murdoch. He was 42. They were married 24 years before he died, age 67, 60 years ago. She never remarried.
''Mum lived entirely for him,'' Mr Murdoch said. ''To her last breath, this beautiful woman never considered herself as anything but absolutely in love with my father. We children were part of that love.''
She is survived by Rupert and daughters Anne Kantor and Janet Calvert-Jones. Her eldest daughter, Helen, died in 2004.