Up until recently when I traveled to Boston, MA last September, I used to tell the story about my one and only visit to the city. It was a one-night, two-day stay, but long enough to actually bump into one of the most camera shy and private public figures of the past century, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
I arrived into Logan International Airport and, along with several business colleagues, bused into the Boston suburb of Newton, MA. We had business later that evening, but had some free time during the day. I suggested we visit the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. Everyone agreed, and we took public transit to the University of Massachusetts where the museum is located. It was a Monday, and the museum was not busy.
After touring through a few galleries, most of the girls in the group wanted to leave and go to Faneuil Hall, one of the main shopping and restaurant areas in Boston. They did. Only my friend Tom and I stayed. Besides us, there were very few people in the museum. One volunteer told me there would be a dedication ceremony later that day for a new museum wing, so we might want to stick around. It sounded interesting, but we had no idea what she was referring to or who might be attending.
Tom and I were soon in the downstairs galleries looking at the various exhibits. I remember standing in front of the very desk President John. F. Kennedy used during his presidency. Soon, I didn’t see Tom anywhere. He must have went back upstairs, so I proceeded out of the downstairs galleries and up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, on my way towards finding Tom, I walked down a corridor towards the gift shop. There were a number of hallways on the right that looked like where the museum offices might be located. In one of the hallways, as I walked past, I noticed an attractive woman and her husband with a small baby. After passing that hallway, I thought to myself how familiar the woman looked, so I went back and peaked down the hall. Caroline Kennedy (yes Neil Diamond’s song “Sweet Caroline” was written in her honor) smiled at me. She might of understood that I figured out who she was and why I immediately backtracked. There, standing a few yards away from me, was JFK’s only daughter with her husband and baby.
Wow! I hurriedly started a slow jog towards finding Tom when suddenly I bumped into a sharply dressed woman wearing dark shades and a purse around her shoulder. It was thee Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis! After saying “excuse me,” when I asked her “can I take a picture,” I wasn’t thinking that this was a woman who sought privacy for her and her children her entire life – a woman who once took out a restraining order against a photographer who fiercely hounded her. Still, at the time I thought it was pretty quick thinking to ask the question. After all, I did have my camera with me. Jackie O politely and in the most refined manner of speech I’ve ever heard said “that’s fine.” Hearing her soft elegant voice was surreal-like, but it wasn’t a dream. I was standing next to her! To this day, I’m not sure if she meant that’s fine I’d rather not or that’s fine it’s ok.
The only thing I can say is it was the kindest “that’s fine” I’ve ever heard. Somehow I sensed she meant she’d rather not though. Either way, it became moot as soon Jackie O and I were joined by her son-in-law (who I saw in the hallway minutes earlier) who came over and handed her grandchild over to her. It seemed I was in a family picture I didn’t belong in, so I walked away. I spotted Tom near the pay telephones (he was calling his friends telling them he’s in the presense of an icon; he actually was a big fan of hers). I soon realized the jean jacket I was carrying was somehow not appropriate, so I asked the girls in the gift shop to store it for me. Soon, all the guests for the dedication for the new Stephen E. Smith wing at the museum were arriving.
The museum staff said they didn’t mind if Tom and I stayed. We could even attend the dedication. I wasn’t dressed for a dedication in my white sweatshirt (with an American flag on it) and more than casual pants, so I planned to stand in the back of the room. As Robert Kennedy’s son, congressman Joe Kennedy, entered the museum he shook my hand. Senator Edward Kennedy waved to me. I saw and heard the famous Lauren Bacall of Bogey and Bacall fame walk by. There were Kennedy’s everywhere; all the cousins were there. It seemed the only Kennedy absent that day for the dedication was JFK Jr.
Later that night, business went well, and we were on a flight early the next morning to another city. Before leaving, I bought the Boston Globe which had a photo of Jackie O and Senator Ted Kennedy on the front page. That same week Caroline Kennedy appeared on the cover of People Magazine. For me, bumping into an American icon is a memory I cherish. It was a day with American royalty, a day with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.