Prime Minister Scott Morrison has paid tribute to veteran journalist Mike Willesee at a requiem mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.
Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher read out a statement from Mr Morrison to a congregation of hundreds of family, friends and former colleagues who had gathered to pay their respects to the late television journalist who died last week aged 76 after a long battle with throat cancer.
The archbishop said Mr Morrison admired Willesee’s warmth, faith, respect and patriotism.
“Mike Willesee was journalism when I was growing up,” the prime minister’s statement said.
His son Michael Willesee Jnr said his father had a “tender heart and incredible generosity toward anyone in need”.
While Willesee was an introverted and “intensely private” person who lived with the contradiction of being a public figure, he became known for his fearless interviewing style and willingness to push the envelope.
But it was his softer side that was remembered as one of his greatest strengths.
Former television colleagues Tracey Grimshaw, Peter Meakin and David Leckie were among the mourners gathered for the funeral.
Willesee’s friend Father Augustine Withoos praised his reversion and commitment to his faith despite the ridicule he attracted.
Willesee began a return to Catholicism after a plane crash in Kenya when he promised God he would “start looking into His business” if he survived, Father Withoos said.
“Michael Willesee was no plaster-cast saint and I’m not here to canonise him,” Father Withoos told the congregation.
“I’m here rather to ask you what Mike wants of you now, to pray to God for his eternal soul.”
He had “all the hallmarks of a great Catholic man”, and had been writing a second book on his conversion story when he died, he said.
Willesee the newsmaker
His career, which spanned five decades including host of Four Corners and A Current Affair, began at the ABC before moves to the Nine and Seven networks.
Willesee produced an array of award-winning programs and documentaries, along with some of television’s most memorable moments.
In a varied career which has also included horse breeding and racing, Willesee was also a host of Australia’s This Is Your Life.
While host of Channel Nine’s A Current Affair Willesee often made news as well as reported it.
His “Birthday Cake Interview” on the GST with then opposition leader John Hewson was widely credited with changing the course of the 1993 federal election.
That same year, his broadcast of a phone call made to a house under police siege prompted an industry-wide examination of news reporting.
In 2002, Willesee was inducted into the TV Week Logie Awards Hall of Fame.
Born on June 29, 1942 in Perth, Willesee was the son of ALP senator Donald Willesee. He was married and divorced three times, to Joan Stanbury, Carol Willesee and Gordana Willesee.
He was a father of six.
Vale Mike Willesee.
Among his many credits, he reported and presented #4Corners.
Here he is doing what he did best, as he reports from Vietnam during the height of the war. @abcnews pic.twitter.com/K443UTLISG
— 4corners (@4corners) March 1, 2019
Willesee was introduced to Australian audiences in 1967 on the ABC current affairs program This Day Tonight.
In April 1967, the Holt government decided not to reappoint ABC chairman Dr James Darling – a move attributed to Willesee’s critical coverage of Harold Holt’s policies on the ABC.
Willesee went on to host the ABC’s flagship current affairs program, Four Corners, from 1969-1971.