Dignity and Privacy Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Did the Duty That Lay Nearest Her

Article excerpt

She went home to die. There would be no strangers coming down her hospital corridor, whispering outside her door. No paparazzi angling to get at her bedside.

The spokesman for the hospital had said, as spokesmen have said so many times before, "Mrs. Onassis and her family have asked that her privacy be respected at this time."

The reporters, the curious, the well-wishers were kept at arm's length for one last time.

Jacqueline Bouvier. Jacqueline Kennedy. Jackie O. It was a malignant cancer indeed that killed this most private of public women at 64 years old.

The woman's image was seared into our national photo album half her lifetime ago. She was 34 years old - only 34 - on that day when she flew back from Dallas, still dressed in a pink suit stained with the blood of her husband.

In the days that followed, Jacqueline Kennedy become the icon of national mourning. She set a standard for the stoicism we call dignity in the face of death. She did this as she did everything - with courage, in public, under a veil.

Jacqueline Bouvier. The daughter of Black Jack. The 18-year-old who was chosen the Debutante of 1947. The diffident Vassar and George Washington student who became the "inquiring camera girl" for the old Washington Times Herald. The wife of the young senator from Massachusetts. The first lady.

At times, she looked like a deer caught in the Kennedy headlights. She hadn't voted before her marriage, didn't care much for politics, was more attracted to art than policy, and liked shopping more than touch football.

We thought we knew her. We thought she belonged to us. She has been on more magazine covers than Madonna. We followed every move, every hairstyle and lifestyle change. We knew her favorite diet dinner - baked potatoes with caviar - and her favorite designers.

But it was a compliment that she didn't return, an intrusion she lived with but didn't welcome.

As a single mother, the most famous widow with the most famous children in America, she chose to raise Caroline and John as well and as far from the spotlight as possible.

"I was reading (essayist Thomas) Carlyle," she said once after Jack died, "and he said you should do the duty that lies nearest you. …

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