HAMILTON’S Geoff Han-dbury will remember his mother-in-law Dame Elisabeth Murdoch as “a woman of strong mind” and says he was privileged to witness the wonderful, unqualified love she had for her husband.
Dame Elisabeth, 103, was surrounded by family when she died peacefully on Wednesday night at Cruden Farm, her garden estate home in Langwarrin where she had lived for nearly 80 years.
Mr Handbury married Helen Murdoch, Dame Elisabeth and Sir Keith Murdoch’s eldest child, in 1949.
Yesterday he told The Standard of his first impressions, which he said were lasting.
“She was a woman of strong mind,” he said.
“When I asked Sir Keith Murdoch for Helen’s hand in marriage he ducked off into the kitchen to get her (Dame Elisabeth’s) final opinion.
“She replied ‘I choose your ties, not your son-in-laws’ and he promptly came back with a bottle of champagne to celebrate our engagement.”
Mr Handbury said the moment his romance began with Helen, Lady Murdoch as she was known then, gave him a very warm welcome.
“That welcome continued right up until her death.
“Helen was very young when we began courting, at not quite 17, and if it was a concern for my future mother-in-law, she never showed anything but warmth in welcoming me into her home.
“When I look back I was very privileged to witness the wonderful, unqualified love she had for her husband and I’m sure that their great love for each other was a big influence on the marvellous 55 years I spent with Helen.”
Mrs Handbury died in 2004. Now 87, Mr Handbury said because of Dame Elisabeth’s strength of mind and determination there were occasional tense moments.
“I remember getting back to Cruden Farm at 9.30pm after sailing drinks at Davies Bay to be confronted by my mother-in-law quite sternly informing me dinner was served at 7pm.
“In those days she had staff and always showed great consideration to her staff’s welfare.
“To avoid further confrontation Helen and I suggested that we build a shack in a back paddock at Cruden Farm and what a howling success that was. We and the children saw more of granny without getting under her feet and disrupting her routine.”