John E. Pforr, a former Secret Service agent who protected several presidents as well as foreign dignitaries and was also an avid Sherlock Holmes and H.L. Mencken fan, died Sept. 23 from complications of dementia at his Mays Chapel home. He was 82.
“John was assigned to five presidents over the years, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan,” said fellow agent Will Slade Sr. of Clarksville. “I’ve known him for more than 50 years and first met him when we worked LBJ’s detail when he visited Canberra, Australia. It’s a big deal even within the Secret Service to be assigned to the White House detail.”
He praised Mr. Pforr’s sense of humor and dedication to his work.
“He brought a sense of humor — he was not a clown but very subtle and sincere and when it came to his job. He took it very seriously,” Mr. Slade said. “He knew how serious his responsibility was."
John Evan Pforr, pronounced “Fore,” the son of Charles Edward Pforr Sr. a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. engineer, and his wife, Marjorie Akehurst Pforr, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Howard Park.
He was a 1956 graduate of St. Paul’s School for Boys and after earning a bachelor’s degree in 1960 from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, entered the Army the following year. He was sent to Berlin during the 1961 crisis that resulted in the Russians’ building the wall that separated West and East Berlin, and where he was a combat support officer.
Discharged in 1963 with the rank of lieutenant, Mr. Pforr joined McCormick & Co. as a spice salesperson assigned to the Richmond, Virginia, market.
Mr. Pforr joined the Secret Service in 1965 and at his swearing-in took an oath of confidentiality, which he maintained until the end of his life — but would occasionally relate a tale or two of what it was like protecting the most powerful man in the world.
One of his favorite assignments took place during the fall of 1965 when he was detailed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
“Ike walked to the end of the lane every morning, and one of us accompanied him,” Mr. Pforr explained in an interview with Crusader Connection, the St. Paul’s School alumni newsletter.
“I went with him on the last day of my assignment, and I later found on my desk an autographed picture of Ike — and he even spelled my surname correctly, which is rare!” Mr. Pforr said.
In 1966, he was detailed to the White House, “where I spent two years protecting LBJ,” he said in the interview. It was well known that President Johnson had a fixation about lights being left on in empty rooms and demanded they be turned off.
“As he made his way to the residential quarters, he’d bellow, ‘Turn out those lights; we can save some money,’ ” Mr. Pforr said in the interview. “And after he went upstairs we’d turn them back on!”
Mr. Pforr began protecting Richard M. Nixon at the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami, and later on the campaign trail that fall, and finally for two years after he was elected president.
He enjoyed telling a story about Mr. Nixon when he was campaigning in New York.
“We had just finished a meal at a restaurant in Montauk, on Long Island, and Nixon announced he wanted to go for a walk on the beach. So there we were: he and four Secret Service guys, all in dark suits and glasses,” he told Charley Mitchell, his interviewer, St. Paul’s School’s alumni director.
“As we walked the beachgoers gawked but kept their distance — I found out later they assumed we were Mafiosi, with no idea they were seeing a candidate for president and his security detail.”
He recalled Mr. Nixon’s motorcade being the target of egg- and tomato-throwing demonstrators during a visit to Australia, and a later visit to Vietnam when the "Huey helicopters taking us [Nixon’s party] to the presidential palace in Saigon were fired on.”
From 1970 to 1972, he was assigned to the Seattle field office and from 1972 until 1975 was a senior instructor in the Training Division in Washington. In 1975, he was named senior special agent in the New Haven, Connecticut, field office, and spent the last six years of his career, until retiring in 1989, as senior special agent in the Baltimore field office.
Even though he had these other assignments, he was often recruited for duty in protecting presidents Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, or for foreign service dignity details, Mr. Slade said.
“John was very humble and didn’t talk about his Secret Service years a whole lot,” said his wife of 32 years, the former Lynn Keigler, who taught at St. Paul’s School for Girls. “He was not the kind of person who would boast or brag. He was very modest about what he did.”
Mr. Pforr was a fan of H.L. Mencken, Winston Churchill and the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective Sherlock Holmes.
Mr. Pforr was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars in New York City, and the Six Napoleons of Baltimore, where he was elected gasogene, or president, and whose Sherlockian name was Police-Constable Cook of the H Division, a character from Doyle’s "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”
“Although John’s career was in the military and law enforcement, he was a modest, quiet-spoken man,” said William Hyder of Catonsville, a former Sunday Sun reporter, author, and Sherlockian scholar.
“Sherlock Holmes societies think of their meetings as a pleasant blend of scholarship and fellowship,” Mr. Hyder said. “John joined the Six Napoleons of Baltimore after he had retired. As a Holmes fan who enjoyed the society of the other members, he fit in perfectly.”
Mr. Pforr was also a model trains and railroad fan, and he and Mr. Slade took a 10-day round-trip rail journey from Baltimore to the West Coast.
“We took the Capitol Limited to Chicago, and the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles, and then the Coast Starlight,” said Mr. Slade, who recalled the two men tossing coins at the beginning of their journey to see who would occupy the sleeper’s lower berth.
“We flipped that coin three times until John won,” he said with a laugh. “John was a grand soul and just a great guy to be with.”
Mr. Pforr was a member of the Maryland Club, Wednesday Club, and the Army and Navy Club in Washington, and the ROMEO lunch club — Retired Old Men Eating Out — at St. Paul’s.
He served on the alumni board at St. Paul’s, where he was named an Outstanding Alumnus, and endowed an award for an assistant varsity/head junior varsity coach, “on the grounds that they work as hard as head varsity coaches without the recognition,” said Mr. Mitchell, of Parkton.
Mr. Pforr was a communicant of the Anglican Church of the Resurrection, 11525 Greenspring Ave., Lutherville, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Pforr is survived by a son, Cameron Pforr of Tyson’s Corner, Virginia; a daughter, Robyn Ryan of Delmar, New York; and six grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Frances Birch McLean ended in divorce.