USA TODAY Review
USA TODAY Rating: 3.5/4 stars
‘Mrs. Kennedy’: A relationship of respect, protection, love
By Don Oldenburg, USA TODAY
April 02, 2012
If you're a Kennedy vulture looking for scandalous scraps of hushed-up affairs, look elsewhere. Retired Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill's charming insider's chronicle of the Kennedy years is more of a Driving Miss Daisy tale that contains lots of Secret Service logistical stories and daily-life anecdotes but few startling revelations.
Not that Hill drove Mrs. Kennedy much. His job was to protect her. But this account by the Secret Service agent seen in the Zapruder film frantically climbing onto the back of the presidential limo to shield JFK and the first lady on that fateful day in Dallas is more about how a relationship between two strikingly different people in close contact evolves into genuine intimacy.
When Hill, now 80, first met Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in November 1960, JFK had just been elected president and "Jackie" was pregnant with their first child, Caroline. Jackie was a rich girl, Mrs. Potter's School, Vassar, the Sorbonne, equestrian, married to the junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Clint Hill was an adopted small-town North Dakota boy, normal '50s childhood, Concordia College in Minnesota.
Hill had served on President Eisenhower's Secret Service detail and figured this reassignment to protect the next first lady was a demotion — the "Kiddie Detail." Little did he know he'd soon be accompanying Mrs. Kennedy on trips worldwide as she redefined the role of the modern first lady.
While Mrs. Kennedy's beauty, grace, intelligence and spirit quickly captivated Hill, her insistence on privacy and trying to raise her children normally are what earned his respect. He writes that he "wasn't there to be her friend," but he became one of her most trusted friends. He never uses the word, but not only did he adore her, it's clear from his book that Hill (who was married) loved her.
Yet they never ventured beyond formality. He was always "Mr. Hill," she was always "Mrs. Kennedy."
What makes this memoir memorable is that Hill was always there as the Kennedy legend evolved. He was there for Caroline's first snowman, and John-John's birth, for Thanksgivings at Hyannis Port and Christmases at Palm Beach. When Jackie's horse threw her headfirst, he raced to her side. As more than a 100,000 people lined the streets in New Delhi waving miniature American flags and cheering her, he was scanning the crowd for potential dangers. When she needed a tennis opponent, he did the best he could in his dark suit and Florsheim wingtips. While many of the book's anecdotes have previously been reported, Hill owns the point-of-view advantage.
At times, it's easy to tell where Hill's voice ends and co-author Lisa McCubbin's voice begins, such as when describing what Jackie was wearing: "an ice-blue long-sleeved silk coat with a matching whimsical beret." But McCubbin, an award-winning journalist, undoubtedly helped Hill sustain the storytelling quality of the narrative.
Nowhere in the book does that quality become more intense and dramatic than the 25 pages describing the day of the assassination and the disturbing details of Hill's eyewitness account as he climbed across the back of the limousine after hearing the first shot and seeing the president reach for his throat. What Hill saw in those seconds would haunt him forever.
As for JFK's infidelities, Hill upholds the "secret" side of his service and never even mentions any scandals. Still, the book conveys a sense of honesty and proves to be an insightful and lovingly penetrating portrait of the Jacqueline Kennedy that Hill came to know.