“TRUE LOVE is like a ghost: everyone talks of it, but few have met it face to face.” — La Rochefoucauld
I HAVE delayed writing much about a new book titled Mrs. Kennedy and Me because, frankly, every time I look at it, I choke up. This is the story that Clint Hill, the special agent of the Secret Service to Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, thought he would never write.
But, finally, with the help of Lisa McCubbin, he has done so for Gallery Books of Simon & Schuster.
Talk about being unable to put a book down; I was enthralled with this memoir from start to finish, tears streaming down my cheeks at the end when President Clinton summoned Mr. Hill to the White House in 1994 to tell him that Mrs. Onassis was dying, and to thank him for service to his country during JFK’s administration. And after.
This, simply, is a love story — and a great one, in that the adored First Lady formed a real bond with her protector, Clint Hill. A friendly respectable bond. And after all the scandal-ridden, tell-all, tell-what-they-imagined, and really tragic books about the Kennedys — this one is a readable relief.
Clint Hill came to truly love Jackie and it shows on almost every page. (Except in the historical beginning where Hill feels he is being punished by the Secret Service for an unpalatable appointment)
Kennedy watchers, Kennedy lovers, Kennedy haters are being presented here with an unvarnished but idealistic-at-heart version of Jack, Jackie and the family.
This presents the sly, freedom-loving, paparazzi-hating First Lady who seems to have had no idea of what she was in for when she married John Fitzgerald Kennedy. But Mr. Hill thinks she surmounted everything — gossip, whispers, back-biting, in-laws, tragedies and triumphs with a rare sophisticated good humor.
THERE IS no hint of the onslaught to come of the mythic — true or false — versions of their lives and times with which we would eventually be deluged. Mr. Hill’s take is his very own. Clint Hill thinks Jackie overlooked the President’s short comings, that they were happy together in the White House, that Jackie truly was devoted to her crafty father-in-law and more than did her part as the most fascinating First Lady ever to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His job was to protect her and protect her children and protect them, he did. Or tried to.
It was a difficult, demanding, unrewarding job but he came to love it and her. And the only hint of the negative is toward the end when President Kennedy warns Clint Hill to keep Jackie away from a man named Aristotle Onassis. At the time, Hill couldn’t figure out why. And even as Jackie lay dying in New York, Clint Hill writes: “… Mrs. Onassis … I still can’t bear to call her that — to me she will forever be Mrs. Kennedy.”
As I said above, this is a love story by someone who notes rightly that “Mrs. Kennedy and I had been through hell together.” He felt he couldn’t/shouldn’t even call or see her again without bringing to mind that day in Dallas.
This is a grand, protective and unabashedly idealistic view of Jacqueline by someone who loved and served. On every page, I waited to see what Clint wrote next, what negatives he observed but hid, but — in the end — he reveals next to nothing except about her cleverness, her hidden worldliness, how hard she worked to do the right thing, protect her children, and her husband’s legacy.
And you know what? You read right up to the trip to Dallas, hoping the ending will be different. Clint Hill has added immeasurably to the history of the 1000 days, plus many more when he went on serving.
He is a great American hero. And his heroine is enhanced by how he remembers her!
Jackie would have loved this book. It is a real, revealing portrait and is simply fascinating.
Clint Hill is in his 80s and I would like to give him a big hug.
This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 4/13/12