Described by her nephew Ian Roberts as “one of the classic English nannies,” Shaw tended to Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr.‘s every need for seven and a half years, until she retired in 1965. But she was more than just their governess. She “was probably their best friend at the time,” Jackie’s former Secret Service agent Clint Hill says in this week’s PEOPLE cover story.
“I nursed the children from the cradle and came to love them just as if they had been my own,” Shaw – who died at age 85 in 1988 – wrote in her 1965 memoir, White House Nannie. “Happily they repaid me with their own love and affection.”
So who was this woman who became a fixture in one of the nation’s most famous First Families? Here are five things you should know about Maud Shaw:
1. Shaw was strict, “with a great sense of formality,” says Gustavo Paredes, a playmate and friend of the Kennedy children, whose mother, Providencia Paredes, was the First Lady’s personal assistant.
“She was pretty strict with the kids, but she laughed, she had a good sense of humor,” says Hill, author of Mrs. Kennedy and Me. “She was very British. She really demanded that they respect all other people.”
“She taught them all the niceties,” he adds, including how to bow and curtsy for the Queen during an official visit.
Shaw was so good at her job that she drew comparisons to another famous British nanny. “She provided structure: When a woman comes into the room, you have to stand up, and one should address everyone by Mister or Master, so it was ‘Master John,’ ” Paredes tells PEOPLE. “In that sense she was Mary Poppins without the great magic.”
2. Shaw broke the news of JFK’s death to his daughter, Caroline.
After President Kennedy was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, Jackie’s mother, Janet Auchincloss, asked Shaw to break the news to First Daughter Caroline, then 5.
Shaw wrote about the heartbreaking moment in her memoir, excerpted below.
“I sat on the edge of [Caroline]’s bed [that night] and felt tears well up in my eyes. Caroline looked up at me.”
” ‘What’s the matter, Miss Shaw? Why are you crying?’ I took her in my arms. ‘I can’t help crying, Caroline, because I have some very sad news.’ ”
“Then I told her. It was a dreadful time for us both. Eventually she fell asleep while I sat on the bed, still patting her. At last I tiptoed from the room, leaving the door open just a crack, as always.”
3. Shaw looked after many children in her lifetime – but Caroline and John Jr. were her favorite.
Before her retirement, she worked for “almost 40 years with all sorts of people and their children in many parts of the world,” Shaw wrote in her memoir. But the Kennedy children were dearest to her heart.
“I have a deeper love for them than all the others, perhaps because we have seen so much together,” she told The Daily Times-News in 1966. That could be why, she said, she felt closest to Caroline. John was a “young scamp” who “liked to introduce himself even when I tried to keep people from bothering the children.”
“Life in the White House had been orderly and routine for Caroline,” she explained. “This may account for her basic shyness. She’s like her mother. I felt drawn to Caroline in a protective way. John-John was born into action and excitement. I loved him dearly but he was so outgoing, he had his father’s energy. I didn’t feel as protective toward him as I did toward Caroline.”
4. Shaw was a constant presence in the children’s lives.
“Jackie oversaw absolutely everything,” says Jackie Style author Pamela Keogh, but it was Shaw who did most of the daily work. “If John needed a bottle in the middle of the night, Maud took care of it.”
5. Shaw kept in touch with the Kennedys even after her retirement.
In May of 1965, Jackie took John Jr. and Caroline to England for the dedication of a memorial to their late father in Runnymede outside London. The children also accompanied their beloved former nanny on a weekend trip to the coastal town of Sheerness, where Shaw was living with her sister Hettie, according to the Rome News Tribune.
Although this was essentially goodbye for Shaw and the Kennedys, they still kept in touch. While vacationing in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 1966, John wrote to “Miss Shaw”: “I hope to see you again shortly. My school is all right in Switzerland and my school is very nice in New York. I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year and a happy Easter and a happy Thanksgiving.” The letter, penned by Jackie, is signed, “Love from John.”
• Reporting by LIZ MCNEIL
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