Facebook Twitter

JACKIE’S COURAGE ETCHED IN NATION’S MEMORY

SHARE JACKIE’S COURAGE ETCHED IN NATION’S MEMORY

She was many things, but above all she was the woman in the pillbox hat who crawled across the limousine trunk, her husband's blood splattered across her stylish pink suit.

In a few moments in Dallas, Jacqueline Kennedy was transformed from first lady to first widow. Even her subsequent marriage to a Greek shipping tycoon couldn't change that.If she resented her status as American royalty, she had herself to blame. She helped create the myth of Camelot, a myth that endured even as it was tattered by one revelation after another about her husband's presidency.

When John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, his wife said she felt "as though I have just turned into a piece of public property. It's really frightening to lose your anonymity at 31."

Years later, she offered this assessment: "I have been through a lot, and I have suffered a great deal. But I have had lots of happy moments as well. I have come to the conclusion that we must not expect too much from life. You cannot separate the good from the bad."

Her life after Dallas had plenty of both. She was a private person who endured harassment from photographers, a single mother who raised two seemingly happy children in a fishbowl, a millionaire who went to work like everyone else.

She did her best to shield her children, and by all accounts she took great pride in John Jr., a lawyer who seems to have developed a disposition to match his good looks, and Caroline, a lawyer who bore her three grandchildren.

As reports surfaced of President Kennedy's womanizing, his reliance on painkillers, his general recklessness, she held her silence.

Everything called attention to her: her wealth, estimated in 1989 to be more than $200 million; her dark, wide-eyed beauty; and her social position, beginning with her Southampton birth and Newport, R.I., childhood.

And her reticence - she went 25 years without granting an interview.

After the motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the nation's horror and grief were leavened by admiration for her brave, lonely resolve.

At Parkland Memorial Hospital, as the priest said his blessing over her husband's corpse, Mrs. Kennedy took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hand.

Flanked at the funeral by young Caroline and John-John, Mrs. Kennedy "became a symbol, for all of us, of great nobility and character in an age of general impoverishment of soul," said Kennedy aide Larry O'Brien.

Mrs. Kennedy stunned many admirers in 1968 when she married Aristotle Onassis, a 62-year-old tycoon who was already a jet-set legend.

"Jackie: How Could You?" demanded one newspaper headline.

Within a few years there was a falling out. When Onassis died, in a Paris hospital in 1975 after a long illness, his wife was in New York.

He left her $120,000, but she contested his will and won a $26 million settlement from her stepdaughter, Christina.

In some of the many books and movies devoted to her, Mrs. Onassis was portrayed as calculating, spiteful and greedy, but her friends disagreed.

"The Jackie they know has managed to preserve her dignity through an ordeal by the press such as no other woman in this century has had to undergo," Edward Klein said in a 1989 profile in Vanity Fair.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born July 28, 1929, in the Long Island resort community of Southampton to stockbroker John "Black Jack" Bouvier and Janet Lee Bouvier, who divorced when she was 10. Her mother then married Washington businessman Hugh D. Auchincloss.

Jacqueline, who pronounced her name to rhyme with queen, was dubbed debutante of the year in 1947 after her coming out. She attended Vassar and the Sorbonne before graduating from George Washington University in 1951 with a major in French literature.

That year, while working as a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald, she interviewed Kennedy, then a Massachusetts senator. The couple were engaged in 1953.

Mrs. Kennedy was 31 when her husband, 43, was elected 35th president. They moved into the White House with their children - Caroline, born in 1957, and John Jr., born less than a month after the election.

The new first lady dedicated herself to redecorating the White House, traveling and shopping. Thanks to her, pillbox hats, bouffant hairdos, white gloves and Oleg Cassini gowns were the rage.

In August 1963, she gave birth to Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, but the infant died after three days. It was not the year's last tragedy.

Shortly after her husband's death she summoned Theodore White of Life magazine to the Kennedy home on Cape Cod. He recalled:

"She didn't want Jack to be forgotten . . . She reported how at night he would often listen to `Camelot' on their phonograph and how he personally identified with the words of the last song: `Don't let it be forgot, that there once was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.' "

In 1966, she made an unsuccessful attempt to block the publication of William Manchester's book, "The Death of a President," because it revealed intimate family details. Manchester eventually agreed to drop certain passages.

The transcript of his five-hour interview with Mrs. Onassis in early 1964 remains sealed by court order until 2067.

Her relations with the Kennedy clan waxed and waned. She attended the 1986 wedding of her niece Maria Shriver to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but did not attend Rose Kennedy's 100th birthday celebration in 1990.

Asked to name her chief accomplishment, she said, "I think it is that after going through a rather difficult time, I consider myself comparatively sane. I am proud of that."