I am deviating from the norm today in my column to tell you about one of our nation's etiquette icons: Letitia Baldridge, who passed away Oct 29 at the age of 86.
Most people recognize her name from her three years of service as the chief of staff or social secretary to Jackie Kennedy. She and Jackie attended a private boarding school and college together and remained friends. Letitia had already "gotten her feet wet," so to speak, in the public protocol world prior to Jackie's call, because she had served as social secretary to the U.S. Ambassador to France, as secretary to Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce in Rome, and director of public relations for Tiffany's in New York.
After her three years in The White House, she started her own public relations firm, wrote a weekly column and was asked by the Amy Venderbilt family to update the deceased etiquette maven's book. She did so and throughout her later years, she wrote about 20 etiquette-related books, Baldridge leadership books and a novel. With all that success, she remained not only a lady, but also a human being who was able to tell stories of her own faux pas -- including the time she stretched out her long leg to cross the other (she was 6-foot-1) and wound up tripping Winston Churchill. Imagine that turmoil!
I wish I had had the opportunity of meeting her and talking to her, but I do have an autographed picture of her, thanks to my dear friends, Ted and Laura Cook. It is a beautiful picture of her sitting at a perfectly proper set tea table with a china teapot and teacups, a silver cream and sugar, and three-tiered serving dish filled with delicacies, on a pristinely starched and ironed white tablecloth. (As many of you know, teas are among my favorite joys in life, with fond memories of taking my mother with me to try a new tea house.) Ms. Baldridge's handwritten inscription to me: "Every good wish to a fellow manners maven -- Dianne." Signed: "Letitia Baldridge 9-16-02". I have always admired this woman, this leader and, most of all, this lady.
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.