After working as part of President Eisenhower’s security detail, Clint Hill admits that being assigned to protect the incoming first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, felt like a demotion. “I wasn’t very pleased with being assigned to protect her. And she didn’t want to have anything to do with me as a Secret Service agent,” Clint tells Closer exclusively. “She appeared somewhat shy, extremely soft-spoken, and appeared not to be cooperative.”
Over the next four years, all that would change. Although he always addressed her as “Mrs. Kennedy,” Clint, 90, became a close and trusted confidant of Jackie’s and a genuine friend. He writes about their warm relationship and shares more than 200 rare photographs of their trips together in his new memoir, My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy. “We spent so much time together that we developed a strong bond. It got to the point that we could communicate with a look or a nod,” he says.
As Jackie’s only dedicated Secret Service agent, Clint, then 28, was a constant presence in her life. At first, she bristled at this invasion of her privacy, but once she understood that Clint was professional, discreet and sincere about protecting her and the children, she began to let down her guard. “I realized that she was obviously very intelligent,” says the former agent, who admits he is not easily impressed. “I gained an enormous amount of respect for her willingness to accept the role she was thrust into with grace, poise and dignity. As she traveled the world, she represented the United States better than any official ambassador.”
Jackie has long been admired for her class and elegance, but as Clint accompanied her on trips, both official and personal, to France, Italy, India, Morocco, Mexico and more, he got insight beyond her beautiful manners. “She was very quick-witted, and she liked to sort of shock people with her humor sometimes,” Clint reveals. “For example, in India, she bought a series of Kama Sutra paintings, which she hung in the dining room of their home in Virginia. I think it was for shock value.”
Jackie was also a very good sport. “Mrs. Kennedy had a wonderful sense of adventure — the more exotic, the better,” he explains. On a trip to Pakistan with her sister, Lee Radziwill, the women were invited to ride a camel. However, when Jackie, an accomplished horsewoman, touched the reins, the animal became agitated. “Lee begins shrieking,” Clint remembers. “And Mrs. Kennedy is laughing hysterically.”
While Jackie’s travels were a lovely perk during her years as first lady, Clint notes that she was happiest and most relaxed in the company of her husband, John F. Kennedy, and their children, Caroline and John Jr.
“She was extremely happy when the president was able to spend time with her and the children. In My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy, we have a number of photos showing Mrs. Kennedy with John and Caroline riding horses and of Mrs. Kennedy teaching Caroline how to water-ski,” he says. “My favorite memories of her are when she was out of the spotlight. When she was with her family in Palm Beach, Florida, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts or Middleburg, Virginia, just being a mother and a wife.”
As a mother, Jackie was attentive and affectionate, but a stickler for good manners. “She insisted they say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and always addressed adults with Mr. or Mrs. or Sir or Ma’am,” says the former security agent. However, she also felt that Caroline and John needed time to just be ordinary children, too. “She didn’t want us hovering over them,” Clint recalls. “She also wanted them to learn things along the way without being given special treatment.”
On the day of President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Clint’s actions were caught on the Zapruder film. He’s the Secret Service agent who ran to the couple’s car after the first shots rang out. Clint pushed Jackie, who had begun to climb over the back of the sedan in a panic, back inside and shielded her and the president with his body on the way to the hospital.
Clint was lauded for his courage and would go on to serve three more presidents during his distinguished career. However, he considered his inability to change the outcome of that fateful day in Dallas a failure. Afterward, he suffered depression and nearly took his own life, but remained a faithful friend to Jackie, whom he served for another year following the death of her husband. “After the assassination, she was a role model, and she helped carry the nation through its grief,” he says.
When Jackie moved to Manhattan with the children in 1964, Clint was transferred by the Secret Service. As they parted, she presented him with a scrapbook of their adventures. “Entitled The Travels of Clinton J. Hill, it held dozens of photographs from all the places we had traveled together, along with humorous captions,” says Clint, who treasures the book and his memories of this one-of-a-kind first lady. “I think she would be stunned and bewildered to know that people still hold her in such high regard all these years after her death.”