- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006


LONDON — John Profumo, who died Thursday night at age 91, was associated in most people’s minds with the scandal that bore his name and led him to resign from the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan in 1963; but he also became known, in the last 40 years of his life, as a tireless worker for charity and as a man who bore his humiliations with enormous dignity and personal integrity.

Mr. Profumo’s story is one of a man who made one terrible mistake but sought his own redemption in a way that has no precedent in public life either before or since.

Mr. Profumo’s transgression came when the Tories had been in power for 11 years. He was then a promising secretary of state for war, married to the actress Valerie Hobson, star of the film “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and one of Britain’s leading actresses of stage and screen in the 1940s and 1950s.

On June 5, 1963, he resigned after admitting that he had lied to Parliament about his relationship with Christine Keeler, a call girl who had been — separately — seeing the Russian naval attache and spy, Yevgeny Ivanov. The Macmillan government never recovered from the scandal and, for that and other reasons, lost the general election the following year.

Filled with remorse, Mr. Profumo never sought to justify himself or seek public sympathy. Instead, for the next four decades he devoted himself to Toynbee Hall, a charitable settlement at Spitalfields in the East End of London. Largely through his fundraising efforts, Toynbee Hall became a national institution.

Mr. Profumo’s dedication and dignity won him enormous admiration from people in all walks of life. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called him “one of our national heroes.”

“Everybody here worships him,” a helper at Toynbee Hall was once quoted as saying. “We think he’s a bloody saint.”

John Dennis Profumo, always known as Jack, was born on Jan. 30, 1915. The Profumos were descendants of an Italian aristocrat, Joseph Alexander Profumo, who had settled in England in 1880 and owned the Provident Life Association, which the family sold for $12 million in the 1980s.

He was educated at Harrow and at Brasenose College, Oxford. On the outbreak of war he joined the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry.

Mr. Profumo had a distinguished military career. He was present at the surrender of the German forces in Italy and was later appointed brigadier and chief of staff to the British Liaison Mission to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan. He also landed in Normandy on D-Day with an armored brigade. In 1960, he became secretary of state for war.

The next year, the Profumos had been invited by Lord Astor to spend a weekend on his estate at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. Lord Astor had leased a cottage on the estate to Stephen Ward, a society osteopath whose client list included former Prime Minister Winston Churchill and singer Frank Sinatra, but who also specialized in friendships with women of dubious virtue; two of Dr. Ward’s guests that weekend were the 19-year-old Miss Keeler and another call girl named Mandy Rice-Davies.

Mr. Profumo first set eyes on Miss Keeler when she stepped naked from Lord Astor’s swimming pool, her costume having been snatched off her by Dr. Ward. Miss Keeler left Cliveden that weekend with Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet attache and friend of Dr. Ward, but Mr. Profumo asked Dr. Ward for Miss Keeler’s telephone number and afterward began an affair that lasted several months.

The British security service MI5 apparently learned of the liaison from Dr. Ward, and Mr. Profumo subsequently ended the relationship after being warned that Mr. Ivanov was believed to be a spy. From then on, Mr. Profumo sought to distance himself from the Cliveden set.

Over the next two years rumors about the affair began to circulate in Westminster, and on the evening of March 20, 1963, a member of Parliament stood up in the House of Commons and asked directly whether the secretary of state for war had been involved with Miss Keeler.

For three months Mr. Profumo denied any impropriety; but his denials were challenged by Dr. Ward, who was then facing trial for living off the prostitute’s earnings.

Eventually Mr. Profumo decided to come clean. After taking his wife to Venice, Italy, to confess his infidelity, on June 5, 1963, he resigned from the government and from Parliament.

After Dr. Ward was convicted of living off the immoral earnings of Miss Keeler and Miss Rice-Davies, he took a drug overdose during the trial and died.

The Profumo affair was seized upon by the Labor Party as evidence of sleaze at the top. The affair precipitated a crisis of confidence in the Macmillan government, and helped to create the climate of opinion that led to the Conservatives’ defeat in 1964.

In 1975 Mr. Profumo was honored by the government as a tribute to for his outstanding charity work and to his wife, Valerie, who had stood by him through all his difficulties.

In 1989, the movie “Scandal” about the Profumo affair forced Mr. Profumo to live through the scandal again. Miss Keeler, who was found guilty on unrelated perjury charges and sentenced to nine months in prison, still lives in London.

She described in her autobiography how she used to attend high-society dinner parties ending in sex romps at the height of the so-called swinging ‘60s.

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