An American hero hits a literary home run.
By Janet Donovan
He called her “Mrs. Kennedy.” She called him “Mr. Hill.” The Secret Service agent responsible for first lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s protection was with her in good times and bad. He is credited with saving her life.
In his new book “Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir” (co-authored with Lisa McCubbin), Clint Hill describes his protective service responsibilities guarding the intensely private Mrs. Kennedy from the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in November 1960 until after the election of Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
“It was with great trepidation that I approached 3307 N Street in Georgetown on November 11, 1960,” Hill writes about his first meeting with the wife of the newly elected president of the United States that he had just been assigned to protect. “I wasn’t looking forward to it at all.” Looking back, he feels quite sure that the first lady was filled with even more anxiety about their meeting than he.
“Neither of us had much choice in the matter,” he reflects, but eventually they would share a “tragic bond” together.
He was with her when her son John was born, when her second son Patrick was born and also unfortunately when Patrick died; he was right there, too, when her husband President Kennedy was assassinated.
You can’t help but wonder how his life is now and whether some of those experiences still haunt him. Does a national tragedy like the murder of a president ever recede into the distance?
“I have great memories, but I have bad memories as well and they never leave,” he said during a recent interview in Washington. “They will go with me to my grave but the fact that I’ve written this book has been a great catharsis. I’ve been able to reveal various things that I have kept secret for over 50 years and it’s been very beneficial emotionally.”
Mrs. Kennedy was an immensely private person and he wondered how she handled being with someone night and day. “It was discretion and my ability to allow her to do those things she wanted to do so that she was both safe and in a private manner,” Hill remembers. “She loved her privacy and that’s the one thing I tried to give her — absolute privacy as much as possible.” It seemed to work for both of them.
On hearing of Mrs. Kennedy’s illness, Hill relates in his book the thoughts that ran through his mind. “For the briefest of moments, I had thought about calling her.” But when he rehearsed in his mind what I might say, he couldn’t seem to find the right words.
“We had been to hell and back, Mrs. Kennedy and me, and while we had both gone on with our lives — if you could call it that — I knew that the mere sound of my voice would take her back to that one day that change everything, and the sound of her voice would do the same to me. It was just too damn painful. I couldn’t bring myself to dial the number.”
Great memories nonetheless remain. Despite that they came from very different walks of life, Hill, who grew up in a small town of just 912 people in North Dakota, says they had a “wonderful relationship.”
“She was very gracious, very classy, extremely intelligent, very athletic and was just a lot of fun to be around,” he adds with profound fondness. “She had a great sense of humor and I enjoyed each and every day with her.”
After rising through the ranks of the Secret Service, Hill retired in 1975 as assistant director responsible for all protective forces. He remains in contact with the current U.S. Secret Service and is actively involved in training activities.
See more in the Summer 2012 Issue of Washington Life Magazine.