Marc Besen AC, the renowned philanthropist and co-founder of the Sussan clothing group, passed away this week aged 99. Tributes appeared across the media, remembering Mr Besen warmly. Forbes magazine said he was regarded as “retail royalty” and a legend of business, and to those who knew him best, “he was kind, funny, loyal and incredibly wise”.
Born in Romania in 1923, Mr Besen’s is a remarkable story of Holocaust survivor to billionaire retailer and shopping centre owner. He immigrated to Australia in the late 1940s.
Mr Besen and his late wife Eva Besen AO, who died in 2021, were known for their generous gifts to the arts, health, science, education, conservation and the Jewish community, having set up the Besen Family Foundation in 1978.
The love of philanthropy was shared with the couple’s four children, Naomi Milgrom AC, Carol Schwartz AO, Debbie Dadon AM and Daniel Besen, and their families.
Passionate art collectors, Marc and Eva Besen built Australia’s first major privately funded public art gallery, the TarraWarra Museum of Art, in the Yarra Valley, which opened in 2003. The gallery houses the gift of their collection of more than 550 Australian artworks.
Mark Leibler AC gave a eulogy to Mr Besen on Wednesday evening, which was published in The Age and other papers. Mr Leibler said that Mr Besen did not accumulate wealth “for its own sake, but for how it could be used to facilitate the greater good”.
Mr Leibler said that Mr Besen’s story is one of “love and loyalty and compassion, demonstrating that a hard head and a soft heart are the perfect combination for a successful life that genuinely counts for something”.
A full tribute and overview of Marc and Eva Besen’s extraordinary philanthropic contributions to Australia and Israel will feature in next week’s edition of Philanthropy Weekly.