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James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Matriarch of Australia’s richest family dies: Loti Smorgon dedicated life to philanthropy

Published 21 August 2013 10:48, Updated 22 August 2013 08:32

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Matriarch of Australia’s richest family dies: Loti Smorgon dedicated life to philanthropy

Loti Smorgon kept a low public profile, but along with husband Victor was one of Australia’s great philanthropists.

Loti Smorgon, the matriarch of the $2.64 billion Smorgon family, has died in her hometown of Melbourne at the age of 94.

Loti was married to Victor Smorgon, the son of Norman Smorgon. Norman and his brothers Abram and Moses emigrated to Australia in 1927 and would go on to form an empire spanning food, manufacturing and steel.

Loti married Victor at the East Melbourne Synagogue in 1937. The couple, married for 73 years until Victor’s death in 2009 at the age of 96, would go on to have four children, 15 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.

The Smorgons became on of Australia’s great philanthropic couples, donating millions through their Victor and Loti Smorgon Foundation to health and arts institutions.

The outpatient wing at the Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne bears their name, as does the Smorgon Gallery at the National Gallery in Canberra.

It is estimated the Smorgons have given more than $40 million in art and cash to the National Gallery of Victoria. The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne has also been a major recipient of their generosity.

Such was their impact as philanthropists that Australia Post included the pair in a range of stamps produced in 2008 to celebrate great Australian givers.

While Loti Smorgon, who was an Officer of the Order of Australia, kept a relatively low public profile, she appeared regularly at gallery openings and other celebrations.

In 1998, Victor Smorgon gave an interview to Film Australia’s Australian Biography Series where he explained his approach to philanthropy towards health institutions.

“In our case, we settled in Australia and…we felt that we have to pay back our debt, to Victoria particularly, and Australia generally. How do you help, how do you do that? You can’t give just a person some money…you can give it to ten, fifty, a hundred people, five hundred people, a thousand people. But you can give it to the community. And the only way you can (give) it to the community is to be generous with larger sums, to hospitals particularly.

“Whatever colour you are, whatever language you speak…once we get to hospital, they put a gown on you and you’re all the same, you’re all equal. So therefore you’re looking after a lot of people, they get use out of your generosity if you like, call it generosity.”

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