Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mrs. Kennedy and Me

Yesterday I gave a brief book review at the Sherick, a residence for senior ladies, where I serve as one of the board members. This year as librarian, I get to choose books to read and recommend––books available in large print. 

History I lived through as well as the recommendation of a fellow board member led me to read Mrs. Kennedy and Me, written by Clint Hill, the former Secret Service agent who for four years was assigned to protect Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of the 34th President of the United States. Timely. 

Clint Hill is the agent in film footage and still shots seen jumping on the back of the president's limousine in Dallas, attempting to shield the First Lady.

I wedged myself between the left and right side of the vehicle, on top of the rear seat, trying to keep my body as high as possible to shield whatever shots might still be coming. I had my left hand on top of the left door frame and my left foot wedged against the inside of the right frame, my right foot hanging over the top of the car frame on the right. I twisted around to make eye contact with the follow-up car. They had to know how bad it was. With my one free hand, I gave them the thumbs down sign and shook my head.

An Infamous Date in History

Compare November 22, 1963 to 9-11-2001. People remember where they were and what they were doing when the unthinkable occurred. 

I was in gym class, right after lunch, standing in front of my locker changing clothes when an announcement by the principal came over the intercom. The President of the United States had been shot. Killed by an assassin's bullet. School dismissed. 

People gathered around mostly black-and-white television sets, watching history unfold as something fundamental about America changed that day. Walter Cronkite's face drained of color before cameras that could only record black-and-white images. 

As kids, we took our cues from adults, and like a death in the family, the news was devastating. My own dad had died the year before. In that moment, John F. Kennedy was everybody's dad.

An Insider's Story

This book, however, concerns itself mostly with the person Jackie Kennedy. As Agent Hill lovingly recalls what it was like for him to watch her move from private citizen to First Lady of the United States, to grieving widow who led the nation in mourning, his admiration for her poise, strength and courage swelled. When the president died at age 46, Jackie was only 34-years-old.
As Hill describes Jackie, she was the first President’s wife who herself became a celebrity. Jackie was the first First Lady to have her own press secretary.

Because Agent Hill accompanied the First Lady, almost like her shadow, once when Jackie asked, “Doesn’t anything ever impress you, Mr. Hill?” he writes, 

I wanted to say, “You know what impresses me, Mrs. Kennedy? You. Everything you do impresses me. The way you handle yourself with such grace and dignity, without compromising your desire to enjoy life and have fun. You don’t even realize the impact you have, how much you are admired, how you just single-handedly created bonds between the United States and two strategic countries far better than any diplomats could have done. And you did it just by being curious and interested and sincere and gracious. Just by being yourself. No politics. No phoniness. Just you being you.” But I was there to do my job, and my job did not entail saying things like that to her. So all I said was, “I guess it takes a lot to impress me, Mrs. Kennedy.” 


An Impressed Reader   

As a reader, this memoir impressed me for its candor as well as restraint. This book is no tantalizing, tell-all account of the inner-workings of the Kennedy family.

As a Secret Service agent willing to sacrifice his life for the person he was assigned to protect, Clint Hill, now 81-years-old, continues to protect the memory of Jackie Kennedy, a woman he not only admired but also grew to love.

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