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FILE - This April 1987 black-and-white file photo shows Letitia Baldrige in New York City. Baldrige, the White House social secretary during the Kennedy administration who came to be regarded as an authority on etiquette, has died, she was 86. (AP Photo, File)
Kennedy White House social secretary dead at 86

First Published Nov 01 2012 08:59 pm • Last Updated Nov 01 2012 08:59 pm

Washington • Letitia Baldrige, the White House social secretary during the Kennedy administration who came to be regarded as an authority on etiquette, has died.

Baldrige, 86, died Monday in Bethesda, Md., friend Mary M. Mitchell confirmed Thursday.

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At the White House, Baldrige also served as chief of staff for first lady Jacqueline Kennedy from 1961 to 1963. Baldrige, who was known as Tish, handled the first lady’s schedule, mail and served as the advance scout on trips. She was also responsible for the guest list and overall coordination of events. At one point, she was tasked with finding a French chef to oversee the White House kitchen.

Baldrige acknowledged that she and her team of aides made mistakes. One letter responding to a celibate priest congratulated him on the birth of his son. On the Kennedys’ 1962 visit to India, Baldrige nearly sent as a gift leather-framed photos, not recognizing that cows are sacred in India. And then there was the first large party she organized, two days into the administration, where she provided ashtrays for the guests and served liquor.

Both were unheard of, at least in the presence of reporters, and press called the party "debauched."

"The president wasn’t happy," she recalled in a memoir, "A Lady, First."

But liquor continued to be served, and Kennedy later acknowledged he was wrong to give Baldrige a hard time.

"People have a good time in this house today," she recalled the president saying later.

President Kennedy also gave Baldrige the nickname "Miss Push and Pull" because she told him where to go during events. Once, when he forgot a toast, she wrote him a note on the back of her place card, "You’re supposed to toast." Kennedy then got up and said, "The social secretary has informed me that I am supposed to make a toast," she remembered in a 1964 interview archived at the Kennedy presidential library in Boston.

Baldrige was born Feb. 9, 1926, in Miami Beach, Fla., the third of three children. Her father, H. Malcolm Baldrige, a lawyer, served one term as a Republican congressman from Nebraska in the early 1930s. Baldrige met the future first lady as a student a Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut, and they both also attended Vassar.

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After college, Baldrige did graduate work at the University of Geneva. She worked as a social secretary at the American embassy in Paris and as an assistant to the U.S. ambassador in Rome. In 1956, she became the director of publicity and public relations for the jeweler Tiffany & Company.

After leaving the White House, she started her own marketing and public relations agency and was the author of more than 20 books. Her business partner, Alinda Lewris, said in an email that Baldrige’s most frequent advice was "Don’t take yourself too seriously."

Baldrige acknowledged that as a member of the White House staff she lived a dream life.

"I don’t care what your politics are, I would wager that if you asked any American woman which administration would she have most liked to work for as social secretary, she would pick Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House as the place to be," she wrote in her memoir.

A memorial Mass is planned for Nov. 9 at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Md.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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