Lady Susan Renouf - socialite and Liberal

She was born Susan Rossiter in 1940, in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, and went on to become a style role model to women across Australia.

One of Australia's best-known political wives and socialites, Lady Susan Renouf, died on Friday.

She was married to prominent Liberal politician Andrew Peacock from 1963 to 1977 and later married British gambling millionaire and racing identity Robert Sangster and New Zealand businessman Sir Frank Renouf. All three marriages ended in divorce.

She was born Susan Rossiter in 1940, in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton. Her mother, Joan Stewart, was married to John Rossiter, an academic who went on to become a Victorian Liberal politician and was knighted in 1978.

After leaving Firbank Girls' Grammar School she began studying law at Melbourne University. She failed first year, but became Miss Young Liberal and met her future husband. She had a brief career as a junior reporter on Melbourne's Sun News-Pictorial.

In 1963 she married Andrew Peacock, then president of the Young Liberals. He went on to become president of the Victorian party and, in 1966, MP for the safe Liberal seat of Kooyong, formerly held by Sir Robert Menzies.

The "Kooyong Colt" and his photogenic wife attracted considerable press attention, especially after Peacock became the youngest minister in Sir John Gorton's government.

His bright-eyed, blue-blood wife became famous for her style, featuring in magazine spreads and social pages wearing Pucci and Courreges.

She claimed she had considered running for Victoria's Upper House - until her husband told her his career should take precedence.

In 1968 she was the subject of considerable tut-tutting for appearing in an ad campaign for Sheridan sheets. She had intended to donate her $50 fee to charity, but critics still spoke about an "abuse of Westminster tradition". Her husband offered to resign, but Gorton and Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam thought the affair was too trivial for that.

The later-titled Lady Renouf told the ABC's Australian Story in 2015: "It was horrible for me, because I felt I'd ruined his career."

The couple lived increasingly separate lives, as Peacock focused on his career and she on their three daughters - Ann, Caroline and Jane.

After she met and fell in love with Robert Sangster, for the sake of Peacock's career she remained in the family home until after the federal election: "I didn't want any excuse for him not to get in the cabinet under Malcolm Fraser," she later said.

She and Peacock divorced in 1977, and the following year she married Sangster and moved to his Isle of Man home. But racing interests and children meant the couple often returned to Australia.

In 1980 Susan Sangster was handed the Melbourne Cup after Beldale Ball crossed the line first in Australia's most famous horse race.

Her second husband had a roving eye, and after he took up with a younger woman the marriage ended in 1985. Susan refused to leave their Isle of Man home until a satisfactory settlement had been worked out.

She also kept Beldale Ball's Melbourne Cup, and was proud it was the last of the famous race's trophies to be made of pure gold. (Many believe her cup is the one Phar Lap won in 1930 and that later went missing.)

The newly divorced Susan Sangster did not remain on the shelf long. In 1985, after a whirlwind romance, she became engaged to Sir Frank Renouf. The gossip columns went wild again.

The couple bought a landmark property, Toison D'Or, in the Sydney eastern suburb of Point Piper. But the 1987 stockmarket crash wiped out most of Renouf's fortune and that marriage, too, ended in divorce.

Toison D'Or became the focus of a bitter legal battle in 1988. Lady Renouf refused to leave and for a time lived there even when the phone was cut off.

She later moved back to Melbourne. Her first husband, in the meantime, had become federal opposition leader and romanced Hollywood actor Shirley Maclean. After resigning from Parliament in 1994, he became Australia's ambassador to the United States and after that appointment continued to call that country home.

Sir Frank Renouf died in 1998 and Robert Sangster in 2004.

In 2013 Lady Renouf was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and was given five months to live. She had surgery and began the first of several rounds of chemotherapy.

She kept up her busy social life and irrepressible sense of humour. At an Australian Open function in January 2015, she mistook an attractive blonde for Heather Mills, ex-wife of Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and one of the world's most famous amputees. "But then I looked down and saw you had two good legs," Lady Renouf told the startled stranger.

In her 2015 Australian Story interview, Lady Renouf said she coped with the disease with the support of her "inner spirit and family and friends ... Or you put on Human Nature and do a bit of a jive around the room".

Source AAP

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