The man once considered almost synonymous with journalism in Australia, who dedicated himself later in life to demonstrating God’s presence in the world, was farewelled from St Mary’s Cathedral this morning.
Mike Willesee was a “trail-blazing journalist” who will be remembered for “his quick wit, good humour and sharp and unrelenting questioning” Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP told family and friends who had gathered for the funeral Mass.
“Many of us grew up with Mike Willesee in our living room. I for one had A Current Affair on night after night at home,” the Archbishop said.
“His personality will be imprinted indelibly on our memories.”
Archbishop Fisher read a message from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, describing Mr Willesee as “one of the true pioneers of TV journalism”.
“Mike Willesee was journalism when I was growing up,” the message stated. “A fearless journalist with presence, judgement and insight, who had a deep understanding of the Australian people. Mike’s contribution to the Australian media landscape cannot be understated.”
The homily was given by close friend of Mr Willesee, Fr Augustine Mary Withoos.
Mike Willesee “might never have existed”, Fr Withoos said, had it not been for a deal his father, Senator Don Willesee, had made with God.
“Senator Willesee just after Mike’s birth offered his critically ill baby son to God, provided God saved Mike’s life and would give him back to his parents, Don and Gwen.”
“The Willesees are incredible dealmakers.”
“Given to God way back then, and given back to his Dad as requested, God put a stamp on Mike from a baby.”
Referring to Mr Willesee’s documentaries on supernatural and miraculous events, following his conversion back to the Catholic faith, Fr Withoos asked, “Why would a man, with his stellar career as one of Australia’s best journalists, bother dedicating so much of his remaining years telling the world about God?”
“Mike Willesee saw telling this to a sceptical world as some of the most important work he had done. It wasn’t about convincing everyone. With Mike it was always, for him, about getting to the bottom of things.”
“Vale Michael Willesee. What a great story! God gave you to us and now He takes you back. That’s the deal that your dad made for you. It is accomplished.”
Mr Willesee passed away on 1 March, aged 76, after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2016. His career as a journalist spanned more than 50 years. He was well known for his hard-hitting interviews with politicians and celebrities.
As an adult, Mr Willesee had drifted away from the Catholic faith in which he had been raised, but returned to it two decades ago, following a brush with death in a plane crash.
He went on to produce a documentary on miracles called Signs from God which was viewed by millions in the US. He also wrote books on the same topic.
After the Mass Mike Willesee junior, described his father as “introverted, thoughtful and intensely private”. Although “quite shy and solitary,” he also “loved an audience” and “loved telling stories”.
As a father he was “loving, patient” and “overwhelmingly accepting of our choices” Mr Willesee said.
“He taught us to be honest and he set our moral compasses.”
Mike Willesee’s youngest child, Rok, said his dad was “just as much a great father as he was a journalist.”
“My father may be gone but his memory will never be forgotten.”
“Michael Willesee was my father and he was the father of modern-day Australian journalism.”