David McFall R.A. (1919 - 1988)


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1954/9 Mariska

Portrait bust

Plaster for bronze

The sitter was Mariska, Lady Peck,

wife of Sir John Peck.

She died 11/6/1979 of a brain tumour.

Sir John Peck was a former Private Secretary to

Sir Winston Churchill (1940-45) and later

Ambassador to Ireland (1970-73)

  Lady Peck in later life

Obituary: Sir John Peck (1913-1996)

The Independent, Jan 20, 1996 by MICHAEL CULLIS

In considering John Peck's more public performances, notably as Ambassador to Ireland from 1970 to 1973, it is important not to overlook one that Peck himself certainly regarded as among the most worthwhile.

In the early 1950s Peck was instrumental in organising and intensifying official efforts to counter Soviet propaganda and disinformation in the initial stages of the Cold War. To that end he much developed, in succession to its founder, the late (Sir) Ralph Murray, the innocuously named Information Research Department, or IRD. Having myself in part worked for it in the field, I was well placed to admire what he did (perhaps occasionally overdid) by way of getting this whole, very necessary, operation off the ground at an important juncture in world affairs.

As a personality, Peck brought throughout our acquaintance of over 40 years - at Wellington College, Oxford and the Foreign Office - a light touch to his scholarly side (we were both classicists at school and university): just as, en revanche, a natural activism was tempered in his diplomatic career by a critical sense of what was (and wasn't) practical politics. This applied not least to his final post, where he was a notably effective ambassador in Dublin, even if it may be a little too much to claim (as some have done) that his efforts there as long as a quarter of a century ago paved the way to the present "peace process". Nor, for that matter, did his close working relationship at the time with the then Taoiseach, John Lynch, save his embassy from being burnt down by a Republican mob.

Undaunted, however, by this distressing experience, he and Mariska, his attractive Hungarian wife who was a constant support in his overseas postings (she died in 1979), decided to retire to Ireland. This departed from traditional custom, but enhanced the enjoyment of his final years, as did his remarriage in 1987 to Catherine McLaren, who survives him with her two stepsons.

This period also saw the issue of his autobiography, Dublin from Downing Street (1978): a book containing a valuable account of things as one of Churchill's wartime private secretaries, in addition to lively impressions from some of his later assignments, including New York (Head of British Information Services), Strasbourg (UK Representative to the Council of Europe), Cairo (British Middle East Office) and Dakar (Ambassador to Senegal and Mauritania).

All of these testify alike to John Peck's versatility and to the clear-headed determination he showed on the job; as well, more generally, to the combination, very much in his character, of a serious mind with a keen sense of humour which found expression particularly in the writing of a good deal of light (but unpublished) verse, and in a store of irreverent anecdotes that gave regular pleasure to his intimates - and others.

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