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Volume:7, Number:32
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LEISURE
THIS WEEK

An Unrequited Love

| Sabrina Islam |

Letters from legendary US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy to David Ormsby-Gore, the man she did not marry, are going to be auctioned in London next month

Four years after John F Kennedy’s assassination, his widow Jacqueline Kennedy traveled to the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia in November 1967. It was a much-publicized trip and her companion was David Ormsby-Gore, a friend of her husband and himself a recent widower. There was much speculation of a romantic attachment. A few months later, Ormsby Gore, a former British ambassador to Washington, proposed marriage. She turned him down.

In a handwritten letter, filled with anguish and a touch of cruelty, she explained her decision to marry Aristotle Onassis instead. "If ever I can find some healing and some comfort - it has to be with somebody who is not part of all my world of past and pain," she wrote. "I can find that now - if the world will let us." The letter was part of a set of papers found in locked red-leather cases discovered only last month in Wales at the family home of Ormsby Gore, who died in 1985. They are being auctioned in London next month by his grandson to help restore the house. The letters point to the depth of feeling behind the public mask of one of the most celebrated women of her time.

Among them is the letter to Ormsby Gore, also known as Lord Harlech, dated November 13, 1968, a month after her marriage to Onassis and five months after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. In it, she spoke of the love she felt for Ormsby Gore, whose wife had died in a car crash in May 1967. "We have known so much and shared and lost so much together - even if it is not the way you wish now - I hope that bond of love and pain will never be cut." Writing from Onassis' yacht in Greece, on stationery with the ship's crest, a clear if cold message, Kennedy told Ormsby Gore: "You are like my beloved beloved brother - and mentor - and the only original spirit I know - as you were to Jack." Ormsby Gore had expressed incredulity at her choice of Onassis, and she tried to respond.

Ormsby Gore was an old friend of John F. Kennedy, whose younger sister Kathleen, or Kick, married Ormsby Gore's first cousin. After John Kennedy's election in 1960, prime minister Harold Macmillan sent Ormsby Gore to Washington as Britain's ambassador. The two men, a year apart in age, were extremely close, and the president consulted him on every key issue of foreign policy, especially during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and in discussions of Vietnam and nuclear disarmament. Robert Kennedy said that Ormsby Gore was "almost a part of the government," adding that the president "would rather have his judgment than that of anybody else." Among the letters is one in which the president praised the ambassador: "I appreciate as you know, in all these critical matters your judgment - which I have found to be uniformly good and true."

Ormsby Gore inherited his father's title, Lord Harlech, when he died in 1964. His grandson Jasset, who inherited the title a year ago, is the one selling the papers, along with other possessions, at Bonhams, London, in an auction scheduled for March 29. Some of the letters will be on view March 2 at the Bonhams showroom in New York.

In total, there are 18 handwritten letters and one typed letter from Jacqueline Kennedy to Ormsby Gore, as well as other papers. Those include a pass admitting him to the White House for November 23, 1963, one day after the assassination; a jocular 1963 letter from Robert Kennedy, signed "Bobby"; and instructions for pallbearers for Robert Kennedy's funeral. The papers include a letter Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Ormsby Gore after the death of his wife, Sylvia, known as Sissie, which seemed to foreshadow his desire to marry her. "Your last letter was such a cri de coeur of loneliness - I would do anything to take that anguish from you," she wrote. "You want to patch the wounds and match the loose pairs - but you cannot because your life will not turn out that way."

One of the most moving documents is a draft letter Ormsby Gore wrote to Jacqueline Kennedy after she turned down his proposal. "All the pathetic plans I had brought with me for visits to Cyrenaica, holidays near one another and a whole variety of solutions to our marriage problem, including one for a secret marriage this summer - plans which I saw us eagerly discussing, calmly and with complete frankness as we did at the Cape and in Cambodia for the next wonderful 10 days - all had become irrelevant trash to be thrown away within a few hours of my landing in New York," he wrote. "As for your photograph I weep when I look at it. Why do such agonizing things have to happen? Where was the need for it?"

The Kennedys and the Ormsby Gores socialized frequently, even stirring resentment among other diplomats and members of the administration. There were small dinners at the White House and shared vacations. One eight-page "incoherent letter as written on Martini" from Jacqueline Kennedy, in the spring of 1962, discusses their coming vacation at the America's Cup races. Others mention her love of dance.

Barbara Leaming, who has written biographies of the Kennedys, said that Ormsby Gore was "the pivotal relationship Jack had in the presidency," a man he trusted almost as much as Robert Kennedy. The distress that followed Robert Kennedy's assassination in June 1968 was one reason Jaqueline Kennedy turned to the security of Onassis, Leaming said. Ormsby Gore did marry again, in December 1969, to Pamela Colin, an American who bore more than a passing resemblance to Jacqueline Onassis. He died at 66, after a car crash. Jacqueline Onassis attended his funeral.

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