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Jackie Onassis still setting a good example

'What Jackie Taught Us' serves as handbook on style, attitude
/ Source: The Associated Press

The lighthouse look. That was the technique Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis used to captivate almost anyone, according to the author of a new book published a decade after her death.

“Jackie perfected the lighthouse look: She had the ability to not only lock eyes with you, she had the ability to lock into your mind,” Tina Santi Flaherty, author of “What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons From the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,” said.

“She would get on the same track with you, and listen, making you feel that what you had to say was the most important thing in the world.”

The book, published by Perigee Books, will be released April 6, in time for the anniversary of Onassis’ death from cancer on May 19, 1994.

Flaherty was her neighbor at 1040 Fifth Ave., where the former first lady made sure — even as she was dying — that building staff members each received an invitation to her funeral, Flaherty said in a recent interview. The author, a former vice president at both Colgate-Palmolive Co. and GTE Corp., is president, chief executive officer and founder of Image Marketing International, which specializes in communications training for executives, political candidates and university administrators.

“What Jackie Taught Us” doesn’t quite fit the list of “Jackie” biographies and tell-alls. Rather, it is “a Jackie handbook, a how-to book,” Flaherty said.

“I never thought Jackie got enough credit for her leadership qualities. I wanted to find out what her challenges were, what her mistakes were and how she overcame them,” the author said.

Brains under the pillbox hat“When a woman is glamorous, it often stops there. With Jackie, it stopped with her big sunglasses and jet-setting image. But there were a lot of brains under that pillbox hat.”

A voracious reader who took on as many as 10 books a week, Onassis worked as a book editor during the years she spent in New York City following President Kennedy’s assassination.

“What attracted Jack to her was both her beauty and her brains. He knew he’d never be bored with her,” Flaherty said.

As Jacqueline Kennedy, the author said, Onassis changed America’s unsophisticated world image with culture, food, fashion and music, and restored tattered parts of the White House to make it “a living history lesson.”

In private, Onassis reversed her “very negative self-image” from a childhood filled with a torrent of criticisms from her mother, Janet Auchincloss.

“Her mother told her that she was not feminine, that her hair was too frizzy, that her size 10 feet were too big, her shoulders too broad and her eyes set too wide apart,” Flaherty said.

Jackie’s response was to grow into an icon of style and social allure, coached by her father, Jack Bouvier, whose seductive energy broke women’s hearts — and inspired his daughter. It was from him that she learned to become the social light beam.

“To be noticed in a crowd, he advised, walk to the center of a room, put a dazzling smile on your face, and keep your chin up. Don’t let your eyes dart around the room,” Flaherty writes in the book.

“Never act as if you’re looking for someone; they should be looking for you.”