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    Inside the Harold Mitchell Memorial Service: Kerry Stokes spoke, Virginia Trioli hosted

    The Victorian Government held a State Memorial Service for ad industry icon Harold Mitchell in Melbourne on Monday morning. Virginia Trioli hosted the service.

    The audience inside Melbourne’s Hamer Hall heard how Mitchell’s influence in shaping Australia as a media force began at the age of 16. His service to the community and generosity lasted a lifetime.

    Harold Mitchell died in February 2024 at the age of 81. The Memorial Service was held on what would have been his 82nd birthday – May 13, 2024.

    Mitchell founded the communications group Mitchell & Partners in 1976. As the business grew, he created a formidable reputation both locally and globally. Mitchell spent years rejecting acquisition deals from all the global holding companies before selling the agency to Britain’s Aegis Group in 2012 for $363 million.

    But as his son Stuart Mitchell detailed during two appearances on stage at the service, it was far from smooth sailing all the way.

    Inside the Harold Mitchell Memorial Service: Kerry Stokes spoke, Virginia Trioli hosted

    Harold’s son Stuart Mitchell

    Harold Mitchell also launched the Harold Mitchell Foundation in 2000 and was a major contributor to the arts and Australian public life.

    The Harold Mitchell Foundation confirmed his passing in February, stating he died “whilst recuperating from knee replacement surgery”.

    “He was a wonderful man who helped so many. He will be sadly missed,” said the statement.

    During his career, Mitchell also served as chairman of Free TV Australia from 2013 to 2018, where he was involved in the repeal of the media ownership laws, the removal of commercial television licence fees, the transition to digital-only television, defeating the proposal to increase SBS advertising time limits, and maintaining the anti-siphoning list.

    He also worked on the boards of institutions, including the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Opera Australia, and Tennis Australia.

    See also: Industry remembers media industry legend Harold Mitchell after his passing at 81

    Host Virginia Trioli

    Memorial Service guests

    The service had representatives of the Governor General, the Victorian Governor and the Prime Minister. The current Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan spoke, while former state premiers in the audience were Daniel Andrews, Steve Bracks and Jeff Kennett. Bracks also spoke. Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp was also attending.

    In addition to the speakers mentioned below, guests included News Corp Australia’s Peter Zavecz and Peter Blunden, RyanCap’s Simon Ryan, Seven’s Kurt Burnette and Peter Charles, Omnicom’s Peter Horgan, OMD’s Kenny Stewart, PHD’s Simon Lawson, Zenith’s Jason Tonelli, Initiative’s Sarah James, former Dentsu boss Luke Littlefield, QMS’s John O’Neill and Barclay Nettlefold, Eddie McGuire, trucking boss Lindsay Fox and SMI’s Jane Ractliffe.

    Steve Bracks

    Tribute highlights: Stuart Mitchell

    Victorian Premier Allan said: “He was the boy who went from nothing to doing everything he could to make Victoria smarter, better and fairer. Harold’s early years were nomadic, and there was a restlessness about the future that would stay with him for life.

    “Like many kids with big dreams growing up in small towns, he became obsessed with the radio lying on his bed and listening to 3DB. Radio and television opened up an exciting world. He said it felt like the city was right there in his room. Melbourne was where he wanted to be – the city was his dream. After spotting an ad in The Age for an office boy at the advertising agency, Harold made a long-distance phone call, which back in 1959 was a big deal. Soon after he had his first job in the city.”

    Harold’s son Stuart Mitchell spoke twice during the service. During his first time onstage, Stuart noted his father’s extraordinary success. However, he wanted to focus on parts of his life not so well known. “Dad started his own business when my sister Amanda was two and I was six. He wasn’t around much but life was OK. We lived in St Andrews, 45k from Melbourne in a new home on a 30-acre property. Dad was around most weekends and usually brought home fish and chips on a Friday night on his way home from work.”

    He told how the family would often dine on Chinese food. Something that took Harold about 90 minutes to complete the round trip to the nearest Chinese restaurant. Stuart remembered one day when that routine changed. “We were amazed when he reappeared in minutes with all the usual goodies. ‘How did you get back to quickly?’ Amanda and I asked. He explained how he had sponsored a family from Shanghai to come out and run a local Chinese restaurant just five minutes away. That was so dad. Pure Harold. Anything could be fixed.

    Annie Parsons

    Virginia Trioli put Harold on air

    Virginia Trioli remembered how she invited Harold onto her then radio show for a regular guest spot. “I’ve known Harold since 2001 when I asked him to join me on my 774 ABC Melbourne drive program for a regular segment.

    “I always really enjoyed reading his very clever and witty comments on politics in the media. But what would we call the segment? He asked me and no description seemed adequate to take in his restless mind and all of his curiosities. I jokingly suggested the grand title ‘The world according to Harold Mitchell – he didn’t turn a hair. He said yeah, that’s about right. He was the perfect radio guest. Fearless and funny. He was sly and provocative.

    Triolo also commented: “Harold was of course a bit of a dandy. With elegant shoes and colourful trousers and of course his famous red tracksuit.”

    Video tributes from Kerry Stokes and Annie Parsons

    There were a number of people who provided video tributes. Most of them from outside the media which demonstated how wide his reach was in not just the Melbourne community. But also across Australia and the world.

    Former media agency boss Annie Parsons spoke about standing up to Harold and having fun sparring with him.

    Outdoor advertising pioneer David Nettlefold said: “I could talk to him like nobody was talking to him. I was probably one of the only guys who could walk into his office without an appointment. I’ve never known anyone so intellectually brilliant.”

    Kerry Stokes started saying how sad he was at not being able to attend the service in person. He then described his friend: “Relentless, tough, curious, generous. A visionary powerhouse. Harold was all of these things. To me he was a business associate and a great friend. A valued friend for decades.

    Kerry Stokes

    During his 10-minute tribute, Stokes couldn’t recall when they first met. However, he remembered Mitchell’s involvement in an early Stokes radio investment.

    We worked together when we launched Perth’s first ever commercial FM radio station – 96FM in 1980. It was early days and our ratings and revenue were pretty poor. Harold saw the potential of this new media platform and the opportunities for advertisers to reach new audiences. He said once 96FM was on its feet, the rest would follow. He was right.”

    Stokes recalled how they were both later on the board of the National Gallery of Australia. “He helped me fund the commissioning of David Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon. At the time it cost $5.3m. It was the most expensive acquisition for the National Gallery at that point. Harold was a good judge – these days that painting is worth close to $70m.”

    The Carlton footy fan

    Carlton Football Club coach Michael Voss said Mitchell, a lifelong supporter, embodied the values of the club. “His humility and unity were striking. Harold’s contribution helped transform our facilities to a world-class status that our athletes and coaches are grateful to make the most of each and every day. I’m sure I won’t be the only person who references the fact that Harold never sought any recognition for his immense generosity.

    Scash and Swifte on years at Mitchell & Partners

    Former Mitchell & Partners colleagues Allen Scash and Nick Swifte recalled their years working alongside Harold in the media agency.

    Scash offered: “Harold was profoundly loyal to those that he called his people, his staff, his managers, his clients, and even in some cases, his suppliers. He only asked in return for his loyalty was honesty. He wanted the truth even if you were delivering bad news.

    Swifte noted some of the details about life at Mitchell & Partners. “There were always the rules – you had to play by the rules. You were never allowed to go for a long lunch. The men had to be in suits and ties and shave every day. But if you knew how to work within the rules, you could have a bit of fun. We ended up running one of the greatest unlicensed bars in all of Melbourne. Harold’s Bar and Grill out of the back door of the York Street boardroom.”

    Allen Scash and Nick Swifte

    When Stuart spoke for a second time close to the end of the Memorial, he recalled a time when things didn’t go well.

    “October 1987 and everything changed for our family The global stock market crashed. Harold Mitchell became a different man overnight. His rapid business expansion left him heavily exposed. He had to sell everything and mortgage the family home.”

    Stuart noted how Harold refused advice to declare himself bankrupt. “He borrowed money from Kerry Packer to keep the business running, and accept his arrangement with the bank to pay back 10s of millions of dollars in monthly instalments.

    “We hardly saw Howard again in our childhood. He refocused on what he knew best – advertising. But more importantly, he started gathering around him a select group of advisers to create an economic forecasting model which would ensure they would never have to go through anything like the 1987 crash again.”

    The post Inside the Harold Mitchell Memorial Service: Kerry Stokes spoke, Virginia Trioli hosted appeared first on Mediaweek.

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