Cumberland Island, a 56.9 mile stretch of land just off the coast of Georgia was the stage for the wedding of America’s prince if there was such a thing. Despite everything we know about the Kennedy clan, the heartfelt centerpiece was the woman he married, Carolyn Bessette. Prior to becoming his Mrs. Carolyn made a mark for herself as a publicist at Calvin Klein and her striking stature and beauty made her an enigma for the masses. This month, on September 21st marks, what would have been their twentieth wedding anniversary. They would have turned fifty and fifty-six respectively; Instead, their place of death is noted as the Atlantic Ocean and loss somehow feels just as vast as it did on that hot July day in 1999.
The countless number of books that have been written about them, since their death is astounding, but what has truly been touching is who the books were written by and of course the deeply poignant things they said. John’s assistant Rosemarie Terenzio in Fairytale Interrupted transformed the idea of what kind of a boss John was, and more so, the kind of friend he was to her. The need to be humble and kind, especially to those who needed it most was something John did tirelessly and without even realizing his gestures. During John’s time at the helm of George magazine, his friend, and creative director, Matt Berman describes in JFK, Jr., George & Me, the gentle nature of a man who was the people’s friend no matter their walk of life. Knowing this somehow diminishes their light, but only because of what could have been, but we will never know.
The most painful account came from a book by Carole Radziwill before she was ever in the spotlight as a cast member of The Real Housewives of New York City. Radziwill, a successful journalist at one time penned a memoir called What Remains, recounting her time as the wife of John’s cousin Anthony, an actual prince and as the faithful best friend of Carolyn and her husband John. They sound and look like a royal bunch, but at the core they were real people with actual problems, dealing with life’s ordinary issues inside an extraordinary existence.
What remains today are memories Carole tightly holds in her heart of Anthony, Carolyn, and John since tragedy doesn’t care how remarkable you are, royal or otherwise. After losing Carolyn and John in the most unforeseen plane crash of all time, three weeks later, Anthony, her husband of only five years passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. It’s clear when reading that Carole is speaking from her soul as she describes their collective friendship and the close bonds they shared for the time they had together.
In a period before the social circuit of Instagram and Twitter, our thirst for instantaneous sharing and connecting with friends and strangers alike, Carolyn didn’t fare well in the media. She quickly became the icy fixture on John’s charismatic arm, an unfortunate misconception if you believe in tabloid fodder. Reading about her through the eyes of her friends is uplifting and inspiring as she navigated being Mrs. Kennedy with as much poise as she could gather.
Today, as America blazes through the most unprecedented political landscape, I can’t help but wonder what could have been if they were still walking among us. It’s heartbreaking in its own right and brings up unanswered questions about the path and the chances of a very different aftermath come this November. Whatever the possibilities, let’s at least take the time to remember and raise a glass to the simple couple residing in a quaint loft in Tribeca, who almost had it all.
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