The Kennedy Mystique
Despite the tension that her marriage to Onassis caused, Jackie was always considered a Kennedy first. After taking her editing job, she saw less of the family but remained closely invested. She showed her affection through gifts and notes. Every year Jackie hosted a Labor Day weekend beach barbecue for the Kennedy family near Red Gate Farm.
As always, Jackie showed special attentiveness to Rose Kennedy, visiting her in Hyannis Port. When Rose was still able, they would go for walks on the beach. Later, when her health declined, Jackie sat by her and just kept her company for an afternoon. Jackie also became close to Joan Kennedy after her divorce from Ted. Through Jackie, Joan's book, The Joy of Classical Music: A Guide for You and Your Family was published by Doubleday. They shared a common bond of children, marriages played out in the public spotlight, and being Kennedys.
Not only were the Kennedys successful, they were attractive. Jackie, Jack, and their young children were one of the most photogenic First Families in history. The entire Kennedy clan exuded vigor and health. Likewise, Jackie kept herself in good physical shape with regular exercise and a careful diet.
“As a mother, she was selflessly devoted to her children and never wavered in the value she placed on being a mother…. She was a great support to me, personally … about how she had managed so well to carve out the space and privacy that children need to grow into what they have a right to become.”
— Hillary Rodham Clinton
Tall, slender, and finely muscled, John Jr. was a chip off the Kennedy block from the time he was a teenager. Caroline, however, sometimes struggled with her weight as a teen and young adult. According to one anecdote, Jackie once canceled Caroline's credit card after seeing she had purchased two pounds of barbecue spareribs at Mr. Chow. She only reinstated the card after Caroline agreed to start jogging around the Central Park Reservoir with her mom.
The Kennedy mystique as embodied by Jackie went beyond achievement and physical attractiveness — it was breeding and charisma. When she walked into a room, Jackie commanded attention. People wanted to bask in her presence. Jackie had the ability to make whomever she was talking to feel as if they were the only person in the room. She was also unfailingly polite and raised her children to be equally courteous.
“My mother parented for two. She was deliberate in ensuring that my father's interests and concerns were part of our upbringing — and some of her own, too, which were not his…. She took a lot of pride in being a good mother. I'm glad people think it worked.”
— John F. Kennedy Jr.
Although Jackie enjoyed fine things such as art and antiques, she was also unpretentious and made sure John and Caroline did not grow up spoiled little rich kids. For example, unlike some Upper East Side scions, they never had private cars drive them to school — they took the bus or subway.
The well-chronicled Kennedy ambition has always been tempered by a commitment to public service and philanthropy. Jackie instilled those values in her children. As adults, both Caroline and John devoted time and money — sometimes anonymously — to a number of causes. Caroline helped raise $65 million for New York's public schools. In his twenties, John founded Reaching Up, a program that improved the quality of care for the mentally disabled by provided training for front-line health care workers.
Senator Edward Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, John F. Kennedy Jr., Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and Edwin Schlossberg at an award ceremony, 1992
Photo Credit: Herb Swanson/AFP/Getty Images