Politics & Policy

Jacqueline Onassis, RIP

Editors Note: This obituary originally appeared in the June 13, 1994 issue of National Review.


Whenever I think back on it, as I am now forced to do, it is with utter dread & horror. It was late in the afternoon of a very full day in the Sixties. I stumbled into the receiving line, made up of four lovely ladies, self-evidently the sponsors of the charity affair. The first in line was my wife, the other three all very familiar faces — no doubt I had been in their company dozens of times. But in that harassed moment I could not instantly remember their first names, so I did what one generally does in these situations. After kissing my own wife, I went on to buss Lady B (whom indeed I did know), then Lady C (whom indeed I did know), then Jackie Kennedy — whom I had never laid eyes on in my life. It was only after I had treated her like one of my old lady-buddies that recognition set in. I felt exactly as I’d have felt if I had accidentally kissed the Queen of England. Not because Jackie was Untouchable; but because the national mania to touch her made her correspondingly vulnerable. For a while, a long while, I felt like that awful paparazzo she finally took to court because he was following her about with his camera day after day, week after week, month after month.


In the years ahead, we became moderate friends, and once during a fire drill at Doubleday I shared a concrete stair with her for the duration. Our contacts were infrequent, and I rather liked that about her. She had a set of friends, and as the years went by, she gave more time to consolidating friendships that especially appealed to her than to quick-processing fresh friends. If it had happened that, a month ago we had been seated together, whether in a staircase during a fire drill or at a fancy dinner party, the conversation would have been fresh and lively and spontaneous, utterly lacking in strain; in part, I must suppose, because she knew that notwithstanding the first awful misadventure, I was not engaged in cultivating Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I did once ask her to engage in an enterprise that would have required her to spend ten minutes at the Sistine Chapel, reflecting on the continuing relevance of one of the parables in the New Testament. Her negative was charmingly delivered over the telephone. “Bill, the only time I ever appeared on television was when I took the camera around the White House after the renovations. I was so awful I decided never to do it again.”


It seems, on reflection, that her life, for all its vicissitudes, was about as perfectly conducted as anyone with her beauty, skills, and glamor could hope to manage. She did what she wanted to do. If her second marriage was emotionally impulsive, it was strategically prudent. Books could be written (probably have been written) on the skills she showed in bringing up her two exemplary children in that magnetic field she moved in. She worked not as a dilettante but as a truly engaged editor, an average of three days every week. She exhibited only as much of herself as she thought she owed as reciprocity to a country that loved her and was fascinated by her.


And she was true to her Christian faith, which in the final ceremony irradiated Jackie’s class, a creature of God.



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