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Bob Hawke loved two women. The one he sang to as she died, and the one who stayed until the end.

When Bob Hawke visited his first wife Hazel in her final days, he knelt down, grabbed her hand and started to sing.

“One of her favourite songs was Danny Boy, so I just quietly held her hand and sang Danny Boy to her,” Hawke told Australian Story 18 months after Hazel’s death in 2013.

“She was conscious enough to open her eyes and smile, and I think it helped a bit.”

Listen is Mia Freedman’s chat with Bob Hawke’s wife Blanche. Post continues after podcast.

It was a powerful reunion nearly two decades after the former couple’s 1995 divorce that caused dismay throughout the Australian public and caused a family rift.

Former Prime Minister Bob, who died on May 16 aged 89, is remembered as one of Australia’s most-loved, most-successful politicians.

Throughout his time in the country’s top job, Bob championed women’s rights.

In 1984, his government introduced the Sex Discrimination Act which stopped women being discriminated against based on their marital status, being pregnant or being of childbearing years.

Susan Ryan was appointed to the portfolio as minister assisting the prime minister for the status of women, and she served in that role from 1983 to 1988. The pair are also responsible for the passing of the Affirmative Action Act in 1986, which is now known as the Workplace Gender Equality Act.

His life and his politics were undoubtedly shaped by the two very strong women he loved: Hazel and second wife Blanche D’Alpuget.

Hazel Masterton and Bob Hawke met while Bob was at university in Perth, becoming engaged in 1950.

They would not marry until 1956: Their six-year engagement was a sign of things to come for Hazel, who would spend more than four decades in a relationship demanding many sacrifices.

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Bob Hawke with wife Hazel during the Labor election campaign in 1987. Image: Getty.
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In 1952, Hazel fell pregnant and had the pair of married - as was usual for couples facing pregnancy at the time - Bob would have been ineligible for his Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford.

Selflessly, Hazel had a "traumatic" abortion in order for Bob to further his education. It was a procedure that was illegal at the time, and the experience spurred Hazel to be a prominent pro-choice advocate.

Hazel moved around the country, where ever her husband's job took them. To Canberra, to Melbourne and of course, back to Canberra after he became Prime Minister.

She and Bob had four children: Susan, Stephen, Rosslyn and Robert Jr, who died shortly after his birth in 1969.

Veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes described her as a "very, very strong woman", who was never afraid of sharing her opinion and would hold her own in any argument.

She was passionate about her volunteer work, particularly in the areas of community work, women's and children's issues, music and the arts.

Throughout the marriage and all the challenges it entailed, Hazel remained steadfast. She was, until the very end of their marriage, a supportive wife.

It was this strength and support that made her such a well-loved first lady.

Even after their divorce and following Bob's marriage novelist (and his biography) Blanche D'Alpuget, whom he had an on-and-off affair with since the 70s, Hazel was determined to show she was not a scorned wife. The day after Bob and Blanche's marriage, she threw a party with friends at her Northbridge home.

At first, Bob and Blanche's marriage caused a huge family upheaval.

But as time went on, Bob and Hazel's children and grandchildren embraced their relationship, becoming close to Blanche.

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Bob Hawke and Blanche D'Alpuget. Image: Getty.
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Bob and Hazel's eldest daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke told ABC Radio Melbourne her father was lucky enough to have two great love stories, with her mother and her step-mother.

In an interview with Mia Freedman on Mamamia's No Filter podcast, Blanche spoke of their complicated love story.

"It was the ’70s, and I was a feminist, I was in the women’s movement. We didn’t believe in monogamy, we believed in liberty, equality and sorority and supporting other women, and affairs were par for the course. They were part of that life,” she said. “But one tried to be discreet and not hurt anybody.”

Though “madly in love”, the pair remained just lovers for more than two decades in the interests of Bob’s marriage to Hazel, his career and, as Blanche later noted, “the nation”.

Hazel announced her Alzheimer's diagnosis publicly in 2003 to publicise a fund for supporting Alzheimer's sufferers that she had jointly set up with Alzheimer's Australia.

Following her death in 2013, Bob issued a statement saying he remembered Hazel with "deep affection and gratitude".

''She was more than a wife and mother - being father as well, during my frequent absences as I pursued an industrial then political career,'' he said.

''I think there is general agreement that Hazel did an outstanding job as Australia's first lady from 1983 to 1991. She was a constant support, particularly through some very difficult times."

After Bob's death was announced on Thursday, Blanche released a statement describing her husband as perhaps "the greatest Australian of the post-war ear".

"Bob was dearly loved by his family, and so many friends and colleagues. We will miss him," she said.

Speaking to reporters outside the home she shared with her husband on Sydney's lower north shore, Blanche said she was "doing very well because people have been so wonderful".

"There's been a great outpouring of love and it's been very, very sustaining and energetic and I think it's wonderful for Australia to remember that love is what you need."

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