THE depth and breadth of Harold Mitchell’s power and influence as a media buyer, advertising icon and dedicated philanthropist has been fittingly acknowledged since his sudden passing on Saturday following knee surgery.
Less well known was Mitchell’s quiet but significant contribution over many years to the Carlton Football Club, notably towards its redevelopment, gender equality and community programs – which is to now result in him being awarded Life Membership posthumously.
Though he didn’t live long enough to receive his Life Membership in person – the 81-year-old was to have been presented at the Spirit of Carlton Hall of Fame induction on March 18 - Mitchell was recently told by his lifelong friend and fellow advertising magnate David Nettlefold that the Board of Directors had seen fit to bestow Life Membership upon him.
“I was able to tell him a week before his operation that he was to be awarded Carlton Life Membership and he was rapt because he significantly contributed to Carlton. In the days when games were played there he always had a corporate box and he availed his plane to take Carlton and AFL people to places like the Northern Territory,” Nettlefold said, who was himself awarded Life Membership in 2020.
“He was a committed philanthropist, he gave away millions to the poor and needy, and he was an incredible man. A great man.”
In the days since his passing, Mitchell’s life has been lauded by anyone and everyone from the Prime Minister down for his incredible impact on society, notably through the Harold Mitchell Foundation, in support of health, education, the arts and sport.
Along the way he also served as chair or board member of august organisations including the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, the New York Philharmonic, the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum Board of Victoria, Opera Australia, CARE Australia, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Tennis Australia, the Deakin Foundation, the Melbourne International Festival of Arts and the Australia-Indonesia Centre.
But Nettlefold, in reflecting on Mitchell’s life, identified modest beginnings.
“He came from a humble background, a sawmilling family in Stawell, and he moved to Melbourne when he was 20. He applied for a job with an advertising agency in the city - and the rest, as they say, is history,” Nettlefold said.
“When Harold and I first came together the one thing we had in common was that we were Carlton diehards from an early age. We go back 60 years, to when Harold gave me my first order in advertising through a media buyer D’arcy MacManus in Queens Road. He gave me my first billboard space for Uncle Ben’s.”
Nettlefold acknowledged Mitchell’s resilience in overcoming his own personal demons, and his hard, but fair industry philosophy.
“Harold was a smoker and a drinker in the early stages of his life, which he overcame, and he had a problem with his weight which he also fought,” Nettlefold said.
“In business he was a fearsome competitor and he reorganised the advertising agency. He brought all the small ad agencies together as one so they could get a bigger deal with the corporations, which is exactly what happened.”
Former Carlton President Mark LoGiudice, who was instrumental in leading what was the greatest infrastructure redevelopment ever to occur at IKON Park, acknowledged Mitchell’s incredible support as both friend and mentor at the time he assumed the Presidency in 2014.
“With the passing of Harold Mitchell, Carlton has lost a good friend,” LoGiudice said.
“It was through David Nettlefold and our passion for the Carlton Football Club that we came together, around 10 years ago. I had just become President and I think it was more Harold’s curiosity in knowing what was going on at the Club that we first met.
“Harold and I spent a lot of time talking about Carlton. He was always keen to know what was going on with all our teams, our people and our community programs, and he had a very keen interest in the redevelopment. He was a great sounding board given his experience and his wisdom in life. He was around a long time and achieved much in his life.
“He was a very smart person and a very generous person. He had a big heart. In the end he made a significant contribution to the Carlton Football Club – and he left a legacy on it and many other organisations around Australia and the world.”
In the foyer at IKON Park, by the premiership trophies, Hall of Fame wall and Legends Locker Room, can be found a tangible reminder of Mitchell’s seismic contribution to Carlton.
Inscribed on a perspex plaque by the wall appropriately marked “For The Love Of The Ground” are the following words:
In recognition of
HAROLD MITCHELL AC
who significantly contributed to the redevelopment
of IKON Park and the Spirit of Carlton.