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An ode to a legend: Bert Newton’s eulogy remembers his joy, love for his family and incredible career

To a life well lived.

By Faye Couros
The name Albert "Bert" Watson Newton AM MBE means something different to every Australian, whether you grew up watching him on the silver screen or found him to be a familiar, grandfather figure.
But at Bert's state funeral held on November 12 at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, Eddie McGuire paid an heartfelt tribute to the TV legend and family man's eventful life with an emotional eulogy.
Eddie began his address to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and paid his respects to the elders past and present. Before sharing his gratitude to Bert's family for choosing him to speak as he dedicated his address to those who worked with him and loved watching him.
He began: "Bert Newton AM MBE, to Graham Kennedy he was Herby, to Don Lane he was 'Moonface' and to all of us he was Our Bert. Today we honour his life with a state funeral and Premier Andrews, Patti has asked and the family have asked for me to pass on their deepest gratitude to you and their deepest gratitude to you and the state of Victoria for bestowing this honour.
"Since Bert's passing there has been recognition of his incomparable compering and performances but what has been underlined from story after story is Bert's amazing generosity of spirit. On camera, on stage, behind the microphone, Bert Newton gave of himself to make a show work, a segment pop, make his colleagues look as good as they could be, to give everything for his beloved audience. Friend can and colleague Peter Ford was one of the many with stories of Bert's generosity, to whom much is given much is expected and Bert never forgot.
"Peter told the story sworn to secrecy until Bert said he'd carked it, of Bert hearing of a man dying of HIV/AIDS at a time when sufferers were stigmatised and isolated. Not only did Bert visit and spend hours with every person in the ward but gave the man one of his beloved gold Logies, an amazing gesture that lifted the morale of all in the depths of their despair with the only reward being that Bert gave those on their worst day something to remember as their best. Patti had never heard the story until last week when Peter broke it. It did, however, go some way to solve a family mystery. Bert had won some 36 Logies over his career but the family could only find 17.
"Suddenly it all made sense. It was just one of a myriad of stories shared my friends and colleagues and strangers and fans. Sam Newman reminded me of the famous Mr Anonymous speech written by Paul Keys delivered by Richard Burton in 1983 paying tribute to Frank Sinatra, another giant of show business. I feel it articulates perfectly the essence of Bert Newton so to paraphrase: Bert was a giant among the givers of the world he stands tallest.
"He has more than paid rent for the space he occupied on this planet, forged as he is from loyalty and compassion, carefully hidden, hidden because he ordered it. I appear as the herald as grateful multitudes who have opened those unexpected envelopes, special delivering answers to prayers, those awakened by late- night phone calls which remedied their problems. Those performers, business people, politicians and the sick, down on their luck who suddenly landed the role they never expected and still don't know who to thank and for untold Ben Fishraelz of the caring and kindness of this splendid man who truly was -- splendid man who truly was his brother's keeper and they are legion, those whose lives took a turn for the better because of this man."
On November 12, Australia said goodbye to a legend. (Getty)
Eddie continued to discuss Bert's impact on the show business community.
"Bert was such a legend that to be even acknowledged by him was to feel like you'd made it. When he named his toupee Eddie, he said at the time I was on everything else y may as well be on his head, I was honoured and gratified, first that he knew who I was, second because I'd become part of his act. Thirdly it was pure Bert - a punch line, a laugh but a nod of support to his colleagues.
"We've heard of people getting a segment on his shows, the note of congratulations, a phone call, a text. On your best day but more importantly on your worst because Bert knew both. Shakes spear wrote in Julius Caesar that it is common proof that lowliness is young ambition's ladder, where to the climber upward turns his face but when he attains the utmost round he then turns his back, looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend. The first part is pure Bert. The second is the antithesis. For Bert never turned his back on his people.
"He joked he sent them up, he understood them but was always there for them and he never left them. But lowliness was his young ambition's ladder."
The eulogy then spoke of the Melbourne suburb Bert grew up in and how he dealt with losing his father during his childhood.
"When Bert was a boy, having lost his father age 11, the Fitzroy of the 1940s and 50s was a far cry from the hipster headquarters is today. It was one of the -- hipster headquarters is today. It was a notorious slum.
"So fired by his imagination of what could be inspired by the Marist Brothers who saw something in this year 7 boy who had a knack for radio plays, that he walked from his family home to the city down the very streets outside as a 14- year-old to 3XY.
"One year later he was on air, self-taught, self-driven, what he missed in the classroom he learned in the arena of life. Elocution, diction, general knowledge, music, panelling, timing, vaudeville. How to adapt in a fast- changing world, how to interview, how to perform.
"His cut his 21st cake on television and stayed there for his entire life. At 84, he was still making headlines with posts on Instagram from his hospital bed. Bert never stopped evolving, never stopped learning, never lost his insatiable appetite for what's new. He was the least jaded old- fashioned performer you would ever meet. Probably the first performer poached by Channel 9 from Seven, his partnerships have been the most successful and enduring in Australian television history.
"With Graham Kennedy, they lit up the small screen and would then do an encore performance the next day on the radio. Bert, the perfect foil for the genius of Kennedy, never all to upstage, always to deliver. Later it would be Don Lane, live crosses to the world. Bert's Wheel, always there was this sense of adventure. As Shaun Micallef said, waiting for the Bert moment that would be the talk of the and workplace the next day, that sense of danger, excitement in a suburban Australia. But also for us that sense of pride as we watched "our Bert" match it with the best. To watch Bert with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr was to watch kindred spirits riffing out live on TV, unrehearsed, unrestricted and hilarious.
Eddie then addressed Bert's longstanding friendships and his genuine force.
"In a business known for jealousies it was no fluke Graham was best man at the wedding and to watch Bert in his natural habitat at the Logies was a television -- Logies was a television highlight of the year. How he'd glide on to the stage moving like a dancer, his newly cut suit as he would describe, it his patent leather pumps with that air of "I know you've seen all the stars and acts tonight but get ready for this." That mildly amused grin on his face as he readied himself to bring the house down again.
"Alongside Bob Hope, John Wayne or inebriated foreign star it made no difference, Bert either made no difference, Bert either made a performance great or saved the day. And we saw a moment ago his celebrated sparring with Mohammed Ali was made more memorable in hindsight by not the so-called faux pas but the way Ali realised there was nothing sinister, that Bert was a good man. Greatness knew greatness when he saw it. Bert never missed an opportunity. Ali was one thing, belvedere and Moira, they became household names. Max Morrison, Peter Win, his great friends Pete Smith and Phil Brady, when you're part of Bert's crew you were there forever.
With a career spanning seven decades, Bert was one of Australia's brightest stars. (Instagram)
"Bert encouraged so many. Hugh Jackman said, 'By watching Bert I learned how to handle the spotlight with grace, dignity, honour and class.'
"Rove McManus said, 'I lost a mentor and a friend. Our country lost an icon. Most importantly, a family lost their hero and soul fate.'
"Rhonda Burchmore spoke of Bert being there always with encouragement. Paul Hogan said he was Mr Television, never took himself seriously but took his job seriously. Phillip Adams wrote, 'Bert the electronic friend, he is there when you want or need him. Bert is company.'
"Russell Crowe: 'Bert is not about fashion or trends, he's watched them all come and go. He is about intellect, wisdom born of experience. My life is richer having him as a mate.'
"Channel Nine's Michael Healy said, 'Bert was a star.' And Jane Kennedy, Bert would always support new talent, was up for the gag, he wanted you to succeed," Eddie recounted the peers he touched with his generosity.
"New Faces may have been his show but behind the scenes Bert lived its ethos. So vale, Our Bert. Who turned a piano factory in Richmond into television city. The first Melburnian to become the king of Moomba. When the marquees dimmed it was Bert who helped relaunch theatre in this town. He was a star on the wireless and ran the first sports-based radio station. He loved his footy and his be loved Fitzroy and his horses, fittingly passing on Derby Day, the day of the champions. He sang It's Time he looked-forward not back. In passing, he has been recognised by the Prime Minister, afforded a state funeral by his beloved Victoria with a flag of his country draped on his coffin which Patti said he would have loved.
"Vale, Our Bert. Who turned a piano factory in Richmond into television city." (Nine)
"The other constant in his life is Catholic faith, his funeral here at St Patrick's Cathedral. Last night, the theatres of Melbourne dimmed their lights in Bert Newton's honour. 70 years ago, could that young boy have dreamt of what was in front of him? And while there was Bert and Graham and Bert and Don there was nothing like Bert and Patti. What a combination. Patti, you shared your husband with us all. Your highs and your lows, your family, Matthew and Lauren, your grandchildren who filled Bert's last few years with love and joy. There would always have been a Bert but he was enhanced so much by his Patti.
Finally, Eddie speculated how Australia will move forward in memory of Bert.
"Whether the Gold Logie becomes the Bert Newton award or a theatre or similar be named in his honour, show business and this city will never be the same. The young boy from Fitzroy who became a star then a legend then an institution and now our greatest memory of the golden years of television. Forever, our Bert."
Since May, the beloved star had been battling health complications when his leg was amputated following issues with an infected toe.
He boasted a lengthy broadcasting career and never formally retired, hosting the TV WEEK Logie Awards as recently as 2018.
His widow, Patti, 76, revealed a few days after his passing that his cause of death resulted from medical complications.
"It was complications with everything," she told the Daily Mail.
"When you have a leg amputated, you have to be on a lot of painkillers, and Bert had had, just this year alone, he's had eight procedures, which all involved anaesthetics, and that affects you pretty badly. Your whole system and just everything closes down really. That was all."
Bert is survived by his wife Patti, son Matthew, daughter Lauren, and six grandchildren. Instagram
Bert's career began in 1952, at the young age of 12, when he was discovered by producers of the radio show 3XY program who visited his Boy Scout group.
That fateful day led to an appearance on the stations' Saturday morning children's show, and he was soon given his own program, Melbourne Speaks, in 1955.
In 1956, television was launched in Australia, and Bert was there for the frenzy as a presenter for Channel Seven's The Late Show before he moved to In Melbourne Today on Nine, and then In Melbourne Tonight.
Bert became a mainstay on The Dane Lane Show from 1975 to 1983, and his Millennial audience will know him for Good Morning Australia from 1992 to 2005.
"The young boy from Fitzroy who became a star then a legend then an institution and now our greatest memory of the golden years of television. Forever, our Bert." (Getty)
After his exit, he hosted Bert's Family Feud on Nine, and he then took on the light-hearted series 20 To 1 from 2006 to 2011.
Bert has earned many awards and honours in his time. He was named a Member of the Order Of The British Empire (MBE) and Member Of The Order Of Australia (AM).
He won eight TV WEEK Logie Awards, including four Gold Logies as the Most Popular Personality On Australian Television, and hosted or co-hosted the show 20 times.
Bert is survived by his wife, son Matthew, daughter Lauren, and six grandchildren.

For more on the life and legacy of Bert Newton, read more below

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