The Last American Royalty

Mrs. Kennedy and Me, by Clint Hill. Gallery Books, 343 pp. $26

When Clint Hill got the call that he would be looking after Jacqueline Kennedy, the new first lady of the United States, he was less than excited.

“I felt demoted,” he writes in his memoir, Mrs Kennedy and Me, ” … but if I rejected the assignment, it would be the end of my career.”

He had come directly from protecting President Eisenhower, and he just expected to be carried over to the new president-elect. That alone would have been enough of a change for him?

We were going from a seventy-year-old former general who ran the White House with military precision, to an energetic forty-three-year-old Irish Catholic Democratic from Massachusetts with a lot of new ideas to take America into the 1960s.

Not the least of these new ideas was a plan to revitalize the American physicality, beginning with an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated magazine titled “The Soft American.”

Needless to say, Hill was a little anxious when he walked up to the Kennedy home in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. and met the woman he was charged to protect.

At first glance, “Mrs. Kennedy,” as he would call her from then on, was “attractive, very gracious, and very pregnant.”

She was also very cautious. She was as anxious about meeting her agents as they were about meeting her. But, although she was, at this point, in the shadow of her newly-elected husband, she would not fade into the luncheons and tea parties.

“I realized that Mrs. Kennedy was a lot more intuitive and in control than her public image at the time suggested,” Hill writes. “It was clear that she wasn’t excited about having two Secret Service agents around, and I realized that, if I was going to be able to do my job effectively, I would have to earn her trust.”

Such begins one of the more magical books I’ve read. Though he isn’t a writer by career, Hill speaks honestly and without flourish. He talks of Mrs. Kennedy and the children with so much love and honor: surely they had a relationship that other agents admired. In fact, the first lady would often call him directly if she wanted something done.

Hill writes on his entire career with the Kennedy family, from shortly after President Kennedy was elected until one year after his death, when he was released from her service. After all, he was the one closest to the devastating scene in Dallas: he laid his coat over the president’s face so that no others would have to witness the horror, he carried his body to the gurney, and he ordered the original casket to carry the body to Washington.

This book is not for the faint of heart. There are times for laughter, and there are times for tears. And, even though I did not experience the Kennedy presidency first-hand, reading this book instilled a kinship with the family and, more specifically, with the iconic woman that was Jackie Kennedy.

This review was originally written for the Spencer Daily Reporter.

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About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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