Jackie remembered as friend, icon, comfort JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS: 1929-1994

May 20, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- She was, in life, the most private of citizens, the most public of American icons. And so it is in death that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is being doubly mourned -- both as the complex woman beloved by family and friends and as the womanly ideal revered by a generation of Americans.

"In times of hope, she captured our hearts," says Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady, from her home in Stonewall, Texas. "In tragedy, her courage helped salve a nation's grief. She was an image of beauty and romance and leaves an empty place in the world as I have known it."

Dean Rusk, secretary of state during the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, recalls her as "an extraordinary woman, beautiful, gracious. She carried with her all the pomp that was necessary and she was a great hostess at the White House."

But others choose to emphasize the less sweeping qualities of the slender brunet who -- in what seemed a more innocent time -- charmed America as a graceful first lady and then eased its anguish as a stoic young widow.

"About 48 hours after the assassination [of President Kennedy], she went around to many of Jack's closest staff and presented them with mementos of his -- things she thought they would appreciate," recalls Pierre Salinger, Mr. Kennedy's former press secretary.

"But all the time, you know she was thinking: 'How am I going to get these two little kids through the rest of their lives?' The fact that she came and put her arms around me at that moment was stunning. There were lots of times when Jackie was not very public but, in private, she was extremely strong."

Her admirers, who rushed to extol her legacy and flocked to gather in silence around the luxurious Manhattan apartment where she died, are a cross section of America at its most mighty and mundane.

"Few women throughout history have touched the hearts and shaped the dreams of Americans more profoundly than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis," former President Reagan said in a statement that was echoed by former President Bush and President Clinton.

"Nancy and I have always admired this remarkable woman, not only for her grace and dignity, but also for her tremendous courage."

Meanwhile, in the chilly drizzle that cloaked her Fifth Avenue apartment last night, well-dressed women and sanitation workers, grandmothers and school children, native New Yorkers and tourists gazed up in mournful respect.

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