John F Kennedy was married to Jackie when he seduced Diana de Vegh, right
BETTMAN ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES
It was in a bistro in Paris that Diana de Vegh, a young American student, learned of John F Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963.
The news left her numb. She went home, went to bed, and the next day bought a copy of every newspaper she could find, poring over the details.
Deep down, De Vegh harbored a secret. For four years, she had an affair with the married 35th president, while he rose from Massachusetts senator to commander-in-chief. For 63 years she sat on the secret before admitting that she had been “madly in love”.
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She explained in Air Mail News, a digital weekly: “Young woman, great man. Predictable outcome: heartbreak for her, no consequences for him.”
DeVegh, who is now 83 and blind, said that she wanted her experience to serve as a warning to young women. Despite the progress of the MeToo movement, many girls continued to worship older men and were drawn into toxic relationships with harmful power dynamics, she said.
“The whole idea of conferred specialness — ‘You go to bed with me, I’ll make you special’ — we’ve seen a lot of that with Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes,” she told the New York Post.
Kennedy and de Vegh first met in 1958, when she was starting at Radcliffe College, a women’s liberal arts institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He gave a campaign speech in a Boston ballroom while running for re-election to the Senate. He appeared at her table, telling her date: “Give me your seat, so a tired old man can sit next to a pretty girl.” He then invited her to an event the following week, and soon the affair began. “I was 20 years old with a full supply of hormones and madly in love with this compelling man,” she recalled.
John and Jackie Kennedy at a St Patrick’s Day parade in 1958, the year he met de Vegh PAUL J CONNELL/BOSTON GLOBE/GETTY IMAGES
Kennedy was already married to the elegant Jackie. Although fresh-faced at 40 years old, he would grumble about his bad back. While de Vegh’s classmates lived like students, she would be collected from her off-campus residence by a driver and taken to wherever he was campaigning. The senator’s staff would call her “sweetheart” and bring her coffee before the future president joined her for the drive home. “You know I’m working pretty hard for just one vote here,” he would tease her.
She said that the routine was “easy and emotionally convenient” because Jackie did not participate in suburban campaign events. The secret lovers would meet at his Boston apartment and The Carlyle in New York.
As Kennedy set his sights on the White House, de Vegh moved to Washington DC to be near to him. “It will be better there,” he told her.
Her account of the affair was previously documented in 2004 in Sally Bedell Smith’s book, Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House. de Vegh claims that she agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, which was broken.
Bedell Smith wrote that after Kennedy’s inauguration de Vegh started working on Capitol Hill in a job that he allegedly arranged for her. She later worked for the National Security Council, serving in the Executive Office Building of the White House.
She wrote that Kennedy would invite de Vegh into his private quarters when Jackie was away and have dinner before retiring to the Lincoln Bedroom. In 1962, Kennedy realized he had been accepting counsel from de Vegh’s father, a Hungarian economist. “He realized it could really be a problem because a lot of people knew my dad,” she wrote. “But he couldn’t just drop me.”
Slowly, he put her “back on the shelf”, sending her heartbroken to Paris. He was assassinated about a year after their final meeting.
At the time of their split, rumours of his affairs with Swedish aristocrats, White House interns, and Marilyn Monroe were just hushed whispers.
Eventually, de Vegh got married and left Paris. She had two daughters and became a social worker and a psychotherapist. But she kept her secret.
“Back then, nice girls did not have sex,” she said. “So I did not talk about it.”
She does not regret the affair, insisting that it made her the woman she is today. She added, however, that if she had appreciated how fulfilling romantic partnerships could be, she would have batted away the advances of the future president in that Boston ballroom in 1958.