Book Review: Mrs Kennedy and Me
By Dr A. Khan
Millions of people around the world vividly remember a tragic event that took place on November 22, 1963, in Dallas : a secret service agent was courageously running towards the presidential limousine to help President and Mrs Kennedy as shots were being fired. That agent was Clint Hill ; he was saying to himself,“I’m almost there.” Mrs Kennedy was leaning toward the president. By the time Clint Hill got there, the third bullet had struck the president’s head. Mrs.Kennedy was holding the President's head in her lap as the car sped toward the hospital.
In November 1960, when Clint Hill was assigned to protect the First Lady Mrs Kennedy, he foresaw tea parties and gray-haired matrons. But when he met Mrs Kennedy, he was impressed by her grace, her intelligence, her coy sense of humor and her magnificent composure. For four years, Clint Hill was by Mrs Kennedy’s side – through the early days of JFK’s presidency, birth of sons John and Patrick, trips to European and Asian countries, and President’s assassination and tough times that followed. Clint Hill retired in 1975 as an assistant director of the Secret Service.
In “Mrs Kennedy and Me,”, Clint Hill with the help of Lisa McCubbin paints an eloquent picture of Mrs Kennedy. The narrative is divided into five parts, each covering a year from 1960 through 1964; part one (1960) covers the author meeting Mrs Kennedy and the family and celebrating Christmas at Palm Beach; part two (1961) covers travel to Paris and Greece and details of a summer in Hyannis port ; part three (1962) presents accounts of Mrs Kennedy’s travels to India and Pakistan, October Crisis, Andre Malraux and Marilyn Monroe; part four (1963) expounds on the details of topics like Mona Lisa in New York, The Sunshine Highway, Camp David, and the President’s assassination and funeral ; and, part five covers the post-White House years.
In part one Clint Hill compares his own growing up with Mrs Kennedy’s. He grew up in North Dakota in a small farming town, Washburn , inhabited by Norwegian population. He was an adopted child. His father, Chris Hill, was a county auditor, and mother, Jennie, was a homemaker. In contrast, the author notes that Jacqueline Lee Bouvier grew up on the East Coast in a sophisticated environment which enabled her to acquire social graces and to develop an appreciation of arts. She was born on July 28, 1929, in Southampton, Long Island, to Jack and Janet Bouvier , and while her father instilled in her a love of horses and riding, her mother developed her interest in arts and culture. She had a sister named Lee , who was four years younger. When the two sisters were around eleven and seven years old their parents divorced. Two years later, their mother remarried a very wealthy man named Hugh Auchindoss.
One unique feature of the book is Clint Hill’s detailed description of President and Mrs Kennedy’s interaction with President Ayub Khan . Recalling the vivid details of the reception held by President and Mrs. Kennedy for President Ayub Khan during his visit to the United States in July 1961 , the author observes: “It was a beautiful evening and by the time the guests arrived, everything was in place. Mrs Kennedy looked regal in a white lace sleeveless Oleg Cassini dress with a wide green sash around her waist and elbow-length white gloves, as she and President Kennedy escorted President Ayub Khan and his daughter , Begum Nasir Aurangzeb….everybody commented on the ambience, the delicious food and the extraordinary theater of the evening. By all … the dinner for President Ayub Khan was a smashing success. President Kennedy knew how much effort his wife had put into the occasion and seemed particularly proud of her. Mrs Kennedy was beaming the entire evening. She was seated next to Ayub Khan, and while I couldn't hear the conversation, it was clear they were truly enjoying each other’s company. She later told me that they spent much of the evening discussing a shared passion - their love of horses. Mrs Kennedy was enthralled with Ayub Khan's captivating stories of life in Pakistan - and intrigued by this part of the world that she had never visited. Naturally, Ayub Khan had offered an open invitation to President and Mrs Kennedy to visit him in his homeland. As crazy as it sounded, I had a feeling that Mrs Kennedy might find a way to take him up on the invitation.”
Clint Hill also presents the accounts of Mrs Kennedy’s tour of India and Pakistan. In early February of 1962 Clint Hill was informed that Mrs. Kennedy and her sister Princess Radziwill will be going to India and Pakistan. It was the first official trip of an American first lady to India and Pakistan. To prepare for Mrs Kennedy’s trip, Clint Hill was told to go to New Delhi. The author recalls that shortly before he left on the trip, President Kennedy called me into his office and said, “ ‘Clint,’ he always called me Clint, ‘I want you to stay in touch with Jerry Behn's office and Tish, and make sure any changes Ken Galbraith wants, you clear with us before they're put on the schedule. He's trying to make this jaunt to India last forever, and I don't want Mrs Kennedy overscheduled.’ ”
After three successful days in New Delhi, Clint Hill travelled to Karachi, to set up everything in Pakistan, while Mrs Kennedy in India, was off to Agra and the Taj Mahal, Banares, and Udaipur.
One night shortly before Mrs Kennedy was due to arrive in Pakistan, Clint Hill received a top secret message at the US embassy which read
“PROCEED FIRST AVAILABLE FLIGHT TO LAHORE , PAKISTAN. UPON ARRIVAL OF MRS KENNEDY IN LAHORE ON MARCH 21 FROM NEW DELHI, YOU ARE TO ASSUME COMMAND OF FIRST LADY'S PROTECTIVE DETAIL.”
When Clint Hill arrived in Lahore he was stunned to see eight thousand people waiting to receive Mrs Kennedy . He notes, “It was like a carnival with balloons and welcome banners, children in school uniform waving American flags, and a mass of people packed behind rope lines waiting to see Mrs Kennedy get off the plane.” It was an unbelievable reception for a first lady. President Ayub Khan had sent his Vickers Viscount turboprop airplane to pick up Mrs Kennedy in New Delhi and have it available for her stay in Pakistan. The author recalls, “When Mrs Kennedy stepped out of the plane, dressed in exquisite blue silk coat and a straw hat in the same color, the crowd went absolutely nuts. President Ayub Khan and other dignitaries were lined up at the bottom of the steps to greet her.”
The author observes that from the airport Mrs Kennedy drove to the residence of the governor of West Pakistan for her stay in Lahore. The crowds along the route to the governor’s house were large, dense and enthusiastically noisy. The open-top car was going ten miles an hour, President Ayub Khan convinced Mrs Kennedy to stand up so that people could see her better. All along the way people were throwing handfuls of flower petals at the car... By the time we reached the governor's house, the inside of the car was ankle-deep in a rainbow of flower petals. Mrs Kennedy was completely taken by surprise by the outpouring of affection from these people more than 7,200 miles from her home. She was ebullient. Touching Ayub Khan's arm, she said, "Mr President, the people in your country are so warm and friendly. Thank you for convincing me to come and visit. It is just wonderful to be here."
On the next day of her arrival in Lahore, President Ayub Khan invited her to the National Horse and Cattle Show . The author observes that Mrs Kennedy's entrance to the Horse and Cattle Show was an event in and of itself. Dozens of trumpeters sounded a fanfare as Mrs Kennedy arrived at the ancient fortress stadium in a gilded, horse-drawn carriage seated next to President Ayub Khan. The entire audience seemed spellbound by the beaming Mrs Kennedy. Sitting with Lee and President Ayub Khan by her side, Mrs Kennedy watched the spectacular show that was filled with such pomp, ceremony and tradition; it rivaled the show put on by the French during her visit to Paris with President Kennedy the year before. Mrs Kennedy chatted comfortably with the president. Then came the moment of high drama. President Ayub Khan escorted Mrs Kennedy from the stands onto the grounds, and led her to a beautiful Chestnut colored horse that had been brought out by two of his red-coated guards. “My dear Mrs Kennedy, on behalf of the people of Pakistan, I present to you 'Sardar.' It is my hope that every time you ride Sardar , you will remember with fondness the time you spent in Pakistan." Mrs Kennedy was stunned. He was beautifully marked, a bay gelding with a diamond-shaped white spot on his forehead, and as she reached her gloved hand up to stroke the horse's nose, she broke in to a huge smile and said, "He is magnificent."
The author states that it was love at first sight. President Ayub Khan explained that he was ten years old, and an award-winning jumper that was a descendant from the horses of Agha Khan . He couldn't have chosen a more perfect gift for her.
The next big event in Lahore was President Ayub Khan’s reception for Mrs Kennedy at the Shalimar Garden s where seven thousand guests greeted her. Recalling the event the author writes, “As the sun began to set, the trees lit up with thousands of twinkling lights, and the effect was magical. President Ayub Khan had walked with Mrs Kennedy through the gardens and urged her to say something to the people who had come to see her. I was surprised when she obliged, and stepped up to a microphone that had been set up under one of the pavilions. ‘I'm so happy to be here today,’ she said. ‘All my life I dreamed of coming to the Shalimar Gardens. I never thought I'd be lucky enough to have it happen, especially after yesterday's thunderstorms. I thought fate would never get me here, but it is even lovelier than I'd dreamed. I only wish my husband could be with me and that we had something this romantic to show President Ayub when he came to our country … I must say I'm profoundly impressed by the reverence which you in Pakistan have for your art and for your culture and for the use that you make of it now. My own countrymen too, have a pride in their tradition so I think that as I stand in these gardens, which were built long before my country was born, that's one more thing that binds us together and which always will. We'll always share an appreciation for the finer things. Thank you.’ “
Clint Hill recalls, the next morning, Mrs Kennedy slept late, got dressed in her riding attire, and rode Sardar for the first time. Clint had seen her ride many times, on many different horses, but there was something special about the way she rode Sardar. It appeared that they had a unique connection. Sardar had captured her heart. When Mrs Kennedy dismounted, she had a look of sheer joy on her face. Rubbing his neck, she praised Sardar and kept telling him how wonderful he was. Then she turned to Clint and said, "Mr Hill, Sardar is mine, all mine. No one is going to be: allowed to ride him except me."
The next stop was Rawalpindi where President Ayub Khan celebrated Pakistan Day with Mrs Kennedy at a private dinner at a garden party. The next morning President Ayub accompanied Mrs Kennedy to the airport for her departure to Peshawar .
Remembering President Ayub Khan, the authors writes, “I had come to really like the Pakistani president - he was gregarious, fun, and sincere. On the day of our departure, he was wearing a black fur cap called a karakul , also known as Jinnah cap, which was common attire for Pakistani men, ‘I love your cap, Mr. President!’ Mrs Kennedy exclaimed as soon as she saw it. ‘Why haven’t I seen you in this before?’ President Ayub Khan took off the cap and playfully placed it on her head. ‘It’s yours, Mrs Kennedy.’She laughed and said, ‘Oh, thank you. I must get one for President Kennedy, too.’ ‘I'll take care of it,’ President Ayub said with a laugh. ‘We will have an assortment of Karakuls sent to President Kennedy.’ ”
The author recalls that forty-five minutes later they arrived at an airport near Peshawar, that was the same place from where American Gary Powers had taken off far his ill-fated flight over the Soviet Union.
In Peshawar Mrs Kennedy asked Clint Hill to arrange for the delivery of following message to President Kennedy.
FROM, THE FIRST LADY
TO: THE PRESIDENT
IT SEEMS SO RUDE TO PAKISTANIS TO SUGGEST THAT THEIR BEAUTIFUL HORSE HAS HOOF AND MOUTH DISEASE WHEN OBVIOUSLY HE HASN'T A GERM IN THE WORLD.
HE IS SO BEAUTTFUL AND H IGH STRUNG IT WOULD BE CRUEL TO QUARANTINE HIM IN NEW YORK FOR THIRTY DAYS. CANNOTT BEAR TO BE PARTED FROM HIM
THAT LONG AS COULD SHOW HIM THIS SPRING AND START SCHOOLING HIM IMMEDIATELY.
COULD YOU NOT HAVE VETERINARIAN EXAMINE HIM IN NEW YORK AND SAY HE WAS FREE FROM ALL DISEASE AND HAVE HIM GO STRAIGHT TO GLENORA.
IT WOULD BE LIKE LEAVING LEE IN QUARANTINE TO PART WITH HIM - ESPECIALLY AS HE HAS BEEN SO FRIGHTENED PAST FEW DAYS BY PHOTOGRAPHERS – AND PLANE TRIP WILL UPSET HIM. YOU CAN LEAVE TIGER CUBS IN QUARANTINE AS THEY ARE TOO FEROCIOUS TO PLAY WITH -SO WARN CAROLINE.
PLEASE GET ORVILLE FREEMAN TO LET HIM IN QUICKLY - THEY HAVE PRINCE PHIILLIP'S POLO PONIES. PHILLIP TOOK THEM RIGHT HOME - SO REALLY THINK THERE WOULD BE NO CRITICISM AND IT WOULD BE (UNFAIRLY) CRUEL TO
ANIMALS IF YOU LET HIM BE LOCKED UP IN NEW YORK FOR THIRTY DAYS. HE WILL GET SICK THERE. ALL PRESS WILL SAY YOU WILL LOSE ASPCA VOTE FOREVER IF HE CAN’T COME STRAIGHT TO GLENORA.
Accompanied by the governor of West Pakistan and President Ayub Khan's military aides, Mrs Kennedy arrived at the Jamrud Fort where tribal leaders presented her a dragger and a lamb. Mrs Kennedy was ecstatic. The author recalls, “Mrs Kennedy was wearing the cap President Ayub Khan had given her, and I was sure it was the first time anyone had ever worn the cap with a tailored jacket, skirt, and pumps.” Afterwards Mrs Kennedy drove to the Torkham, Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, and the famous Khyber Pass .
The author states that the last night in Pakistan was spent in Karachi where Mrs Kennedy wanted to deliver a letter from Vice President Lyndon Johnson to Bashir, a camel cart driver whom he befriended during his visit to Pakistan last year. On Vice President Johnson’s invitation, Bashir had visited the United States and became an overnight celebrity. So arrangements were made for Bashir to bring his family and his famous camel to the president’s residence in Karachi. Mrs Kennedy turned to Bashir and asked, "May we ride your camel, Bashir?” Bashir got the camel to kneel and Lee and Mrs Kennedy sat on the saddle. The camel got up and Mrs Kennedy wanted to take the reins and gallop the camel, but Bashir held to the control and led the camel. Mrs Kennedy and Lee enjoyed their ride very much .
Commenting on the success of Mrs Kennedy’s tour of Pakistan , Clint Hill cites the message Ambassador McConaughy sent to President Kennedy, "She has won the confidence and even the affection of a large cross section of the Pakistani populace who feel that they know her and know that they like her. I believe benefits to our relations with Pakistan will be reflected for a long time in ways intangible as well as tangible."
Clint Hill writes that after their tour to Pakistan concluded, Sardar was transported to Washington by a military plane. President Ayub sent Sardar’s trainer to accompany the horse on the long journey with specific instructions not to leave Sardar until he was delivered to Mrs Kennedy.
Later that year President Ayub visited the Untied States. Clint Hill notes, “Mrs Kennedy was eager to show Ayub Khan Khan how delighted she was with Sardar, and she insisted on him coming to Glen Ora, so that they could ride together. There was nothing romantic between Mrs Kennedy and Ayub Khan. But their mutual bond of horses was the bond they shared, and Sardar was the emblem of that bond. President Kennedy also realized that the first lady's trip to India and Pakistan earlier this year had been immensely successful in the Cold War campaign to promote the interests and ideology of the United States around the world.”
In the epilogue, the author states that Mrs Kennedy was one of the most iconic and recognizable women in the world: she was elegant, dignified, the epitome of class. Commenting on Mrs.Kennedy’s eye for arts and culture, the authors writes, “She seemed to recall every detail of every fort and every place she had visited and was still in awe over the magnificent Islamic architecture.”
In May 1994, when Clint Hill discovered that Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was dying of cancer in her New York apartment, he could not control his tears. Remembering her passing away, he recalls, “I always watched Nightline before calling it a night. Promptly at 11:35 PM Ted Koppel appeared on the screen and made the announcement I was dreading: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died only a few moments ago, this evening at 10:15 eastern time at the age of sixty-four.”
In his concluding remarks, Clint Hill writes, “We had been through so much together, Mrs Kennedy and me. More than anyone can imagine. More than anyone can ever know.” Mrs Kennedy and Me, is a fascinating story of a unique personality and of an era gone by, told in a simple but eloquent manner, by an officer and a gentleman.