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EX-FIRST LADY REMAINED A MYSTERY TO THE END

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Dave Powers thought he knew the woman who sat beside him on the long flight home from Dallas that sorrowful November day in 1963.

Jacqueline Kennedy surprised him."You know, we talked the whole time," Powers recalled of that flight after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. "At one point, she turned to me and said, `Dave, you've known Jack all your life. What will you do now?' Imagine, concerned about me at a time like that."

If a longtime Kennedy aide like Powers didn't know the real Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, how were we to?

We didn't.

This was a woman who personified celebrity for more than 30 years but remained largely a stranger to the public that adored her. She was on every talk show host's and magazine profiler's short list of people they would most like to have a chat with, get to know something about.

She was most of all a private person.

For all her international celebrity, she disliked public appearances, especially if called upon to speak. Painfully shy, she had a breathy, girlish voice that came out in a dialect of Southern-genteel mixed with Yankee-Brahmin, and did not signal large events.

Her public addresses were remarkably few and far between.

She did win a Peabody award for her famous 1962 television tour of the White House, but that was exceptional. She was a reticent speaker.

Style was her thing.

Jackie Kennedy followed a long line of matronly first ladies that included Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower. Just 31 when she moved into the White House, she was young, fashionable and attractive. And that was enough.

While she shunned the spotlight, she was ever mindful of her image. As recently as last year, she took to wearing gloves after a paparazzi's close-up of her aging hands was published in a magazine.

In public, she rarely faltered. She was very much the debutante, student at Miss Porter's School for Girls and at Vassar. But she was the product of a family of fading fortunes and of the divorce of her parents, John "Black Jack" Bouvier and Janet Lee.

Fittingly, she found herself in France, where she went to study. Countess Guyot de Renty, who rented the young Jacqueline Bouvier a room, recalled she took a liking to the jazz clubs and the underground cafes of Paris. Her escort was frequently an artist who wheeled her about the Parisian high life on his motorcycle.

She found expression most in writing, obtaining a job at Vogue by turning in essays judged the best of those submitted by about 1,300 college seniors vying to work at the magazine of haute couture.

When it came time to marry, she was traditional.

"She was the last of a generation of women for whom making a life had to do with the adroit choice of the man you spent your life with," said Peter Collier, who co-authored "The Kennedys: An American Drama." "She was the last public American woman who was wholly unaffected by the feminist movement and was larger than the movement."

Out of the fawning eye of the American people, she smoked cigarettes, occasionally lost her temper, doted on her children, exhibited some wit and generally was described by those who knew her as someone without guile or affectation.

Still, men and women of a different time loved her for what they believed she was - the Queen of Camelot.

"There was so much `Jackie this, Jackie that,' she laughed at all that. That was just a caricature. The fact of the matter was that she has had many lives since John's death. She moved on with her life. She wasn't sitting around thinking about the glory days of Camelot," said Carl Anthony of Washington, the author of two books about first ladies.

Indeed, her stature suffered a serious blow when she married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping tycoon nearly 30 years her senior. There was even wide speculation that she would be excommunicated by the Catholic Church for marrying a divorced man.

But she gave the impression she could suffer the greatest difficulties with quiet grace.

This was a first lady who in a single year had endured the death of an infant son, Patrick Bouvier, and then the assassination of her husband three months later. One who would never acknowledge any hurt - any reaction at all - to the growing reports over the years of her husband's many infidelities.

She was fierce protector of her family. Dean Acheson, who had served as secretary of state under Harry Truman, remembered being dressed down by the then-Jacqueline Kennedy in a snowbound New York train station in 1958. His crime: criticizing a speech made by her husband months before.

"I said that we could either spend this time fighting or we could be pleasant. And she said, `All right, let's be pleasant,' " Acheson said in 1967 in an unpublished interview preserved at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. "It was a good thing we did, because we arrived in Washington at 7 o'clock the next morning."

After her elegant composure during JFK's funeral assured her a lasting place as part of America's royalty, she continued to guard Kennedy's image.

The most public lady of the 20th century would never give up her right of private self - ever dodging the paparazzi, ever quiet, ever insulating her children and her thoughts from public scrutiny.

Once, at a White House luncheon, she commiserated with another icon, Princess Grace of Monaco, about photographers bothering their children.

"She was determined that Caroline and John should be able to get in and out of the White House without being pestered by photographers or being made constantly aware of their position," the princess said in an interview on file in the Kennedy Libary archive.

Her final act was a fitting example of her life.

When she knew she was dying, she left the hospital. She graciously received family and friends in the privacy of her home. And then she died.

"I don't have any desire to force myself into people's minds," she once said. `It makes me uncomfortable to read about myself in the newspaper."