Australian entertainment legend Bert Newton was farewelled at a Requiem Mass on Friday 12 November at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

The state funeral was attended by Bert’s family and friends from the entertainment industry, along with a number of dignitaries from around Australia including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Brigadier Robert Marsh (representing the Governor-General of Australia), the Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau AC, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello and former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett.

Albert “Bert” Watson Newton AM MBE was born in Fitzroy to Joseph and Gladys Newton. One of six children, Bert was educated at the Marist Brothers’ St Joseph’s Catholic College and maintained his connection with the Marists long after he left school.

His involvement in the entertainment industry began from the young age of 14 at the Melbourne radio station 3XY and extended to his time on stage and on television in a career that spanned more than 50 years.

A number of speeches were delivered prior to the Requiem Mass, including words from Premier Daniel Andrews who said that Bert never forgot where he came from, ‘and he lived his values: compassion and kindness, generosity and empathy; always working to lift those around him to new heights.

‘On behalf of all Victorians, I offer sincere condolences to Patti and the Newton family. We are all richer for his life; and poorer for his passing.’

Emotional tributes were also delivered by Newton family friend Peter Smith OAM on behalf of Bert’s children Matthew and Lauren.

Of his father, Matthew wrote: ‘Everyone knows he was a great entertainer but what a lot of people do not know about dad is that he would not just be around for the laughs. Those close to him experienced how he would show up in the tough times too. No one more than me. One final conversation a few days before we lost him was different from the usual and we both knew it.’

Addressing his mother Patti, to whom Bert was married for 47 years, Matthew said: ‘Even though your partner is not on stage anymore, the show goes on and you will be okay.’

Mr Smith then read from Lauren’s letter, in which she shared how much she adored her father and how her children loved their “Poppy” so much.

Bert spent his last days in VMCH’s O’Neill House in Prahran, surrounded by his wife and family. Lauren described how her mum and dad loved each other deeply, and how Bert ‘waited until she [Patti] left the room to take his last breath because while she was with him, he could not have gone.

‘My beautiful dad will be with us forever in our hearts and memories, but life will never be the same without him.’

Speaking on behalf of the media industry, friend and colleague Eddie Maguire described Bert’s generosity of spirit. ‘On camera, on stage and behind the camera, Bert Newton gave of himself to make a show work, his colleagues look as good as they can be, and to give everything for his beloved audience.’

Eddie recounted a story shared by family friend and colleague Peter Ford of Bert visiting a dying patient in hospital who he found out was suffering from 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 he gave the man one of his beloved Gold Logies. An amazing gesture. One that lifted the morale of sufferers 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.’

In his homily, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli acknowledged Bert’s deep devotion to his faith and family.

‘For an entertainment man, a man who made millions laugh and smile and sometimes cry, Bert was at heart a man of humble faith, of family love and of unassuming care for the least. These characteristics are each features of a Christian life. Of the three things that last – faith, hope and love – Bert had, in his own particular way, found a way to make these the truths of his life.

‘We who knew him for his public life, perhaps these virtues may not have drawn our attention, but to those close to him, away from the camera and the stage, they are the elements of a good life. Was he a sinner, in need of mercy and forgiveness? Indeed, he was, like all of us. But what makes someone close to God is not notable words or publicised deeds; it is a sinner who has been found by God.

‘From an early age, and through the ups and downs of his life, this was Bert Newton: a man found by God who lived accordingly, in unassuming and extraordinarily generous ways.

‘As our own St Mary MacKillop once said: “Remember, we are but travellers here”. May the Lord welcome Bert to the room long prepared for him, and may we who linger learn from our friend how to live the life to come in faith, hope and love.’

Photos by Fiona Basile for Melbourne Catholic.