Capri Connection: Life as Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant

Ann Hall

As with many of the local residents on Capri, it all began with a visit to this island community most call “Paradise.” So begins the story of Jackie McKeon and her husband Seamus.

“We came down from Long Island New York in 1996 to visit a cousin who had invited us for dinner,” said Kathy. “We fell in love with the Isles of Capri and bought our house mostly as an investment, and we come for five months a year and love every minute of it.”

Most residents may know the McKeon’s by face as they walk the 1.6 mile bike/walking path along the main road on Capri almost every morning during their seasonal stay. What most may not know is that Kathy lived quite a different kind of life. She spent 13 years serving as a personal assistant for the late first lady Jackeline Kennedy and often served as a Nanny for the Kennedy’s children Caroline and John Jr.

Kathy was just a teen when she arrived in the United States in 1964 as a young immigrant from Ireland. At the age of 19, she found herself in her new role as Jackeline Kennedy’s personal assistant. It was through an uncle that Kathy came to the U.S., and a cousin who was a policeman who had contacts with one of Jackie’s Secret Service agents that connected her with her job in the White House. Kathy said she earned the title of “Jackie’s Girl,” from Rose Kennedy.

When Kathy arrived to work for the Kennedy’s the family was still grieving over the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Although Jackie did not talk of it, and Kathy never saw her cry openly, she said that Jackie wore “widow’s black” when she went out. McKeon also noted that “Madam,” as she was hired to call Mrs. Kennedy, had little appetite and was very thin at that time.

There are so many behind the scene secrets that Kathy shares in her memoirs.  McKeon said she was paid $75 a week and was to “live in” like the other staff such as the governess, cook and waitress and to always address Jackie as “Madam.” She and Jackie became very close friends, and she played a key role in helping the family when four years later in 1968 John Kennedy’s brother Robert was assassinated.

McKeon recalls when “Madam” and Aristotle Onassis were married in Greece and how she helped to bridge the move for Jackie’s children. It was at just about this same time that Kathy would begin dating Seamus McKeon, a carpenter and finally marry him in 1971. Jackie and her children attended the McKeon’s wedding and paid for their honeymoon in Barbados. When Kathy and Seamus began to have a family of their own, they set out on their own. They did however get together with the Kennedys during the summers and spend time on the beach until 1977 when their times together were less often.

Kathy learned of Jackie’s battle with cancer in 1994. After calling John Jr. to check on his mother, Kathy sent Jackie a card along with her prayers. In return, “Madam” sent a thank you card and wrote “much love” in her own handwriting. “She died two weeks later,” said Kathy. There were so many tragedies in the life of the Kennedy’s. Kathy tells of how devastated she was when John Jr.’s plane crashed killing him and his wife Carolyn Bessette in 1998.

All the while, Kathy kept a scrapbook of her life as “Jackie’s Girl,” but it was not until now at the age of 72 that Kathy decided to write her memoirs of her life with the Kennedy’s and of the experiences that helped her to discover her own identity in this country.

“I want my grandchildren to know my story and experience the history,” said Kathy.  McKeon has six grandchildren.

“Jackie’s Girl” is a personal story of a local part-time resident of Capri and it affords a glimpse into the private life of one of the most famous women in 20th century U.S. history. The book includes many personal photos and clippings. It has been published by Jennifer Bergstrom and is available online at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Books-A-Million and Indiebound.

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