Letitia Baldrige, an etiquette maven who served as social secretary to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and later wrote books and a syndicated column advising readers on good manners in contemporary America, has died. She was 86.
Baldrige died Monday at a nursing facility in Bethesda, Md., said Mary M. Mitchell, a longtime friend and writing collaborator. Baldrige had severe osteoarthritis with cardiac complications.
In 1960, Baldrige had received a life-changing phone call from Jacqueline Kennedy, a friend from their days at a private girls’ school in Connecticut, who asked if she could help out at the White House. In her new role, Baldrige would come to arrange and oversee the glittering state dinners and other stylish social gatherings for which the Kennedy White House became known.
Baldrige left the White House in the summer of 1963 to join a Kennedy family business enterprise in Chicago. Months later, after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, she returned to assist the first lady in planning the president’s funeral, helping to create indelible, dignified images of a nation and a family at grief.
Known to friends as Tish, Baldrige went on to start her own public relations and marketing company, Letitia Baldrige Enterprises, with offices in Chicago, New York and Washington.
She soon established herself as the nation’s leading arbiter of contemporary etiquette, writing a syndicated newspaper column, lecturing frequently, and in 1978, updating Amy Vanderbilt’s “Complete Book of Etiquette.”
That same year, Time magazine put Baldrige on its cover, describing her in an accompanying profile as “a superbly energetic amalgam of feminist and Tasteful Lady.”
She would eventually write a number of other etiquette books, among them “Letitia Baldrige’s Complete Guide to Executive Manners” in 1985, in which her recommendations included the practical notion that whoever reached a door first – man or woman – should simply open it.
She also wrote about manners related to weddings, child-rearing and social lives.
More than any hard and fast rules, Baldrige said frequently, kindness and consideration are at the heart of good manners.
“It’s thinking about somebody other than yourself. It’s being aware of other people and helping them out and not doing anything to offend them and just being nice,” she said in a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “And it hasn’t anything to do with money. It has everything to do with character.”