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Politics

Revealed: Why Jackie Kennedy Spurned a Besotted British Lord for Aristotle Onassis

Updated

Jacqueline Kennedy in Cambodia with David Ormsby Gore, in sunglasses, in 1967
Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty

In the early years after her husband’s assassination, a heartbroken Jackie Kennedy turned to one of JFK‘s closest friends, former British ambassador David Ormsby Gore, for comfort. When the two traveled to Cambodia together in November 1967 in a highly publicized trip, there was much speculation that they were romantically involved.

But less than a year later, the former first lady married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate 23 years her senior, in a decision that surprised many.

Now, a heart-wrenching, never-before-seen letter that Jackie wrote to Ormsby Gore, also known as Lord Harlech, reveals why she turned down his proposal of marriage — and decided to instead start her life anew with Onassis.

“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,” Jackie wrote to Ormsby Gore, then a recent widower himself. “I can find that now — if the world will let us.”

The letter was among a set of documents discovered last month at Ormsby Gore’s family home in Wales, The New York Times reports. The papers — which include 18 handwritten letters and one typed letter from Jackie to Ormsby Gore — will be auctioned next month at Bonhams in London.

Bettmann/Getty

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Aristotle Onassis on their 1968 wedding day

Jackie wrote to Ormsby Gore from Onassis’ yacht in Greece on Nov. 13, 1968, a month after their wedding and five months after the assassination of JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy.

“We have known so much & shared & lost so much together — Even if it isn’t the way you wish now — I hope that bond of love and pain will never be cut,” Jackie told Ormsby Gore, whose wife had died in a car crash in May 1967. “You are like my beloved beloved brother — and mentor — and the only original spirit I know — as you were to Jack.”

Responding to Ormsby Gore’s incredulity at her choice of Onassis, Jackie continued, “Please know — you of all people must know it — that we can never really see into the heart of another. You know me. And you must know that the man you write of in your letter is not a man that I could marry.”

Onassis, she wrote, is “lonely and wants to protect me from being lonely. And he is wise and kind. Only I can decide if he can, and I decided.”

“I know it comes as a surprise to so many people,” she continued. “But they see things for me that I never wanted for myself.”

In another letter, a draft Ormsby Gore wrote to Jackie after she turned down his proposal, he expressesed his anguish over what could have been.

“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 ten 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?”

Ormsby Gore did get married again, in December 1969, to Pamela Colin, an American who, as The New York Times noted, bore more than a passing resemblance to Jackie. When he died at 66 in 1985 after a car crash, Jackie attended his funeral.