All the president’s women

The glamour of the four women in JFK’s 1963 entourage captured the imagination of the nation but there was more to them than style


President Kennedy’s entourage on his Irish visit included four glamorous women; his two sisters, Jean and Eunice, who had campaigned for him during the presidential election, Princess Lee Radziwill (First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s sister) and close family friend, Irishwoman Dorothy Tubridy.

A representative for Waterford Crystal and Donegal Carpets in the US, Tubridy had been instrumental in encouraging JFK to visit the ancestral homestead in Ireland and his enthusiastic letter to her in Dublin after the visit was evidence of the extraordinary effect it had on him.

With the Kennedy visit electrifying the nation and involving a garden party, dinners, receptions and a Derby visit, Irish milliners and couturiers had a field day.

“Miss Doran’s salon on Dawson Street has been scouring London, Paris, Nice and Switzerland for this unique occasion,” reported Ida Grehan in The Irish Times, referring to the Phoenix Park garden party.

Ib Jorgensen, then a youthful couturier who had made Tubridy a gown for JFK’s inauguration in Washington, remembers hanging out the window of his studio in Nassau Street with all his staff to watch the Presidential motorcade.

The Kennedy women stood out, he recalls, as “very handsome with that wonderful Kennedy grin and great teeth”.

The two sisters accompanied JFK to Dunganstown to Mary Kennedy Ryan’s farm near New Ross in tweed suits and bouffant hair, Eunice in green and Jean, who was to return as ambassador to Ireland years later, in check. Her sister Eunice, who had founded Camp Shriver a year previously (later to develop into the Special Olympics), dazzled at the State banquet in Dublin in a silk ballgown. Always perfectly put together, these women knew how to make an impression in the constellation of a very bright star. Lee Radziwill, then married to an émigré Polish prince, had the same good looks and fashion taste as her sister whom she closely resembled.

“Dot” Tubridy’s connection to the Kennedys has an interesting background. From a family of 11 in Kilkenny, Dorothy Lawlor as she was then, married Michael Tubridy, a captain in the Irish Army who was an outstanding showjumper and one of the three top ranking riders in the world. In the 1950s, the Tubridys met Ethel and Robert Kennedy in Madison Square Garden at a horse show, the start of a lifelong friendship.

Surviving tragedy
In 1954, however, Captain Tubridy was killed in an equestrian accident in Meath, where he managed millionaire Joe McGrath’s stud farm, and Dorothy was left a widow having to support herself and her three month old daughter Áine.

Subsequently she began a career promoting Ireland in the US and became a writer, radio and TV commentator, and friend of JFK and Jackie. Now, nearly 90 and living in Dublin, she remains close to the Kennedy family. Her daughter, Dr Áine Tubridy, died two years ago.

Another survivor of the group is Princess Lee Radziwill, now 90, still impeccably dressed and coiffed and living in some style in Paris where she regularly attends the fashion shows of Australian designer Martin Grant. Like her sister, her liaisons with powerful figures such as Truman Capote, Peter Beard, Rudolf Nureyev and Aristotle Onassis have always captivated the US public.

She too, like Jackie, has had her share of tragedy, failed marriages, losing her son Anthony to cancer and her nephew John F Kennedy jnr. She has also fought alcoholism and depression. But on those heady June days back in Ireland in the summer of 1963, she was just like the others in that gang of four, happy, exhilarated and revelling in the ecstatic welcome from an infatuated Irish public, swept up in the rapture of the crowds everywhere they went and the magic of JFK’s charm and charisma, with no sense of what tomorrow might bring.

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