Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would have been 85 on July 28th. When I walked by her old building (1040 Fifth Avenue), something I do often, I suddenly started to think about her. I had just told a friend how, when she gave parties, the Metropolitan Museum would light up The Egyptian Temple of Dendur just for her. She was behind her husband asking Congress for funds to save these ancient relics destined to fall into the sea. It’s why the U.S. got one of our very own, all because of her. I remember the story when she walked into court as part of a committee to save Grand Central Station. A member of the opposing legal team leaned over to a colleague and said, “That’s it, it’s over.” Her face alone, enough to save a now treasured landmark.
I then started to think about when she died…how my neighborhood swelled with grief waiting for her to pass. She had gone home from Memorial Sloan Kettering deciding it was time to let God have the last say.
There was Eddie the florist who said, “You know, she never asked for special treatment. She’d always wait patiently whenever she came in. I was so humbled by her manners, I would have done anything for her.” And believe me when I say, he was not alone.
Harry the butcher knew when she was given the last rites because her cook came in to tell him. He told Carlos who told Brian who told Anthony the grocer who told me, so I went to her church, St. Thomas More, to light candles.
The throng of press and satellite vans parked all around her home amid bouquets and cards, pictures of JFK and the famous one of John saluting was endless. People stood cordoned off by a police barricade quietly waiting for some news of her.
Why did we love her so much? We did…there’s no question. Was it because of those sudden, sad November days she seemed to single-handedly see us through as a country?
I was 8, glued to the TV like everyone side watching her walk between Bobby and Ted with every dignitary in step behind her. I didn’t know then how dangerous it was for everyone concerned since we still could not identify our enemy.
But she walked anyway, and when they tried to get French General, Charles de Gaulle, to ride in a car for his personal safety he said, “I am walking with Mrs Kennedy.”
She inspired strength and valor, elegance and grace. And if she hadn’t died at 64 she would have made a beautiful grand lady well into her 80s.
She now rests at Arlington beside her husband and two of her children. A little girl named Arabella who was stillborn, and Patrick who lived all but two days. I only wish John Junior was there too, but the powers that be would just not permit it. But she does have Bobby and Ted down the hill who, no matter what, always stood by her.