Bert Newton waited for his wife Patti to leave the room before taking his final breath.
If she hadn’t left, he would not have been able to go.
The story of Newton’s last moments, read from a letter penned by his daughter Lauren, was one of many emotional memories shared at the state funeral for the entertainment icon.
Alongside his family, famous faces of entertainment and politics filled the pews of St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne, just around the corner from the streets of Fitzroy where Newton grew up.
It was on those notorious streets he was living when in 1950 he first visited a radio studio with his Boy Scouts troupe.
That visit sparked a love for broadcast, and launched a career that lasted for decades.
“To Australia, Bert wasn’t just a man on a screen or an actor on a stage,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said as he began the eulogies.
“Like a fireplace on a cold night, families would gather around their TV sets, drawn in by Bert’s warmth and sustained by his inviting ease.
“Bert was more than talent. He was trust.”
Newton was remembered as a mentor who despite his huge success spent decades mentoring and guiding young actors and entertainers.
“Albert Watson Newton, AM, MBE. To Graham Kennedy he was ‘Herbie’, to Don Lane he was ‘Moon Face’, and to all of us, he was our Bert,” friend and broadcaster Eddie McGuire said.
Through all of the memories about Newton’s skill on stage and screen, what was at the heart was “Bert’s amazing generosity of spirit”, McGuire said.
Those memories included Newton spending time with a stranger dying of HIV/AIDS “at a time when sufferers were stigmatised and isolated”.
He even gave him one of his Logies, McGuire said, a story which could help explain a family mystery — of his 36 Logies, the family can only find 17.
“Bert was a giant,” McGuire said, paraphrasing tributes to Frank Sinatra in 1983.
Newton’s partnerships with some of Australia’s entertainment greats, and his encounters with the globe’s biggest stars, were remembered alongside his ability to lift up newer performers.
“Bert carried so many,” McGuire said.
But for all his time on screen and stage, Newton’s passing will be felt most deeply by those he shared the intimate moments of his life with.
“I’ve lost a dear friend” said Peter Smith OAM, who delivered tributes on behalf of the family.
A letter from Newton’s son Matthew, who is overseas, recalled a father and young son who bonded over television, stories and books.
While he was there for the laughs, he was always there for the tough times too, Matthew said.
“One final conversation a few days before we lost him was different from the usual, and we both knew it,” he said.
His father would want to be remembered “with a wink, and not a tear”, he said.
Through every speaker, Newton’s love for his wife Patti shone through.
“You two were a team, are a team,” Matthew said to his mother in the letter.
“And even though your partner isn’t on stage any more, the show goes on, and you’ll be OK.”
His children recalled how much their father wanted to be surrounded by his beloved grandchildren, who gave him a new lease on life in his later years.
“He was the greatest Dad I could have wished for, and he was such a huge part of my children’s lives, as well.”
Sitting quietly in the church for the service was Newton’s wife Patti, his partner of about five decades and half of one of Australia’s golden couples.
“Saying goodbye has been heartbreaking for us all, especially mum,” Lauren’s letter said.
“Because while she was with him, he couldn’t have gone.
“My beautiful dad will be with us forever, in our hearts and memories, but life will never be the same without him.
Smiling photos of Newton accompanied Frank Sinatra’s song My Way before a full requiem mass began at the church.
“For an entertainment man … Bert was at heart a man of humble faith, of family love and of unassuming care for the least,” Archbishop Peter Comensoli said.
After a mass befitting his Catholic faith, full of colour and song, Newton’s family tearfully escorted his casket from the church.
Under grey and rainy Melbourne skies, mourners gave their final goodbyes to a casket draped in the Australian flag.
In a symbol of peace and hope, his grandchildren released doves outside the cathedral.
And with his family by his side, in his beloved Melbourne, Newton made his final exit.