MILLIE Phillips has been described as “an extraordinary woman of vitality and courage”, “a passionate supporter of our community” and “a formidable personality in every way”.
The self-made businesswoman and philanthropist passed away peacefully at the age of 92 on Monday morning, surrounded by family.
Passionate about the Jewish community, Jewish education and Israel, she spent her life giving generously to organisations including JCA, Emanuel Synagogue, Masada College, the Sydney Jewish Museum, JewishCare, Emanuel School, Mount Sinai College, Moriah College, the ACT Jewish Community and WIZO.
In 2011, through JCA, she set up the Millie Phillips Jewish Education Fund with $4 million, which has helped to pay the fees of around 500 Jewish day school students, in addition to funding countless trips to Israel and enabling children to go to Zionist youth camps.
In 2017 she donated US $15 million to Tel Aviv University – who two years earlier bestowed her with an honorary PhD – where the Millie Phillips Student City student housing complex was named in her honour.
“Millie understood the importance of community and helping others and was dedicated to furthering education and fighting antisemitism,” JCA president Ian Sandler said.
“Her legacy will continue for years to come.”
ECAJ president Jillian Segal said, “Throughout her life she adhered resolutely to her Jewish identity, remained a passionate fighter against antisemitism and was a generous benefactor to the Jewish community.”
Born in Poland in 1929, Phillips escaped Nazism, arriving in Australia in 1938. She escaped an abusive marriage and built her career while raising her three children, Lynette, Robert and Sharonne, to become one of Australia’s richest women.
After Lynette tragically passed away in 1978, Phillips found spiritual peace through her Judaism and beliefs in eastern mysticism and Hindu thought, which she detailed in her 2016 autobiography Clouds of Glory.
In a statement, Phillips’ family said she was “a shtetl girl come good, a heroine of another era.
“She will be sorely missed by those who were lucky enough to know her. We will not see her like again,” they said.
“Today the world is a little bit smaller. Millie was a remarkable yet enigmatic figure. She rose in true ‘rags to riches’ fashion from a childhood of abject poverty in Europe … to being noted as one of Australia’s most successful businesspeople.
“She was, by any measure, a feminist icon. Despite battling the stigma in those days as not only a woman in business, but also a high school drop-out and a divorcee, Millie became a known figure and respected community member with multiple public and private ventures across a range of industries that remain heavily male dominated even today.”
On her generous philanthropy, the family noted she had gifted “millions of dollars to various Australian charities”.
“In recent years, Millie’s bequests have supported the building of various education and medical facilities, houses of worship, and other community buildings in Australia and Israel,” they said.
That philanthropy will continue, with Phillips’ will instructing the bulk of her estate to be left to the creation of the Millie Phillips Jewish Fund.
“Her charity will be tasked with pursuing the purposes nearest and dearest to Millie’s heart. Namely fighting antisemitic discrimination in all its forms, to work to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust will never again be visited on us and to promote with pride the community and values to which she dedicated her life,” her family said.
She will be buried at Har Hamenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem.
Full tributes in this week’s AJN.