Weekend reads: The Kennedy’s Nanny
After a harrowing overnight flight across the Atlantic and a rain-delayed puddle jumper from New York, Marta Sgubin arrived very late on the evening of September 7th, 1969 in Newport, Rhode Island for her first day of work. Born and raised in Italy, she was to be the governess for the then 11-year-old Caroline and 8-year-old John Jr., the children of Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy and the late President John F. Kennedy.
That night, Marta made a bold decision. The family’s dogs would no longer sleep in the shed, she told her new bosses. “No, those are our dogs, they’ll sleep with me from now on,” Marta recalls saying to Jackie’s mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss.
Her immediate spunk was well-received by family, and almost 45 years later, Marta is still with the Kennedys. Past governesses had lasted only a year or so, but Marta has always been unique. “I’ve never been intimidated,” she said. “But I was happy that they chose me.” Marta, who was in her mid-30s when she joined the family, quickly became Jackie’s close friend and companion, transitioning into the family’s cook when the kids grew too old for nannying. She also took care of Caroline’s children, Rose, Tatiana, and Jack Schlossberg, who are now in their 20s and consider Marta a grandmother figure. But Marta’s real baby is the family’s dog August, who she walks around Central Park every morning and affectionately calls “Mama’s Boy.”
An immigrant from a 400-person village in northern Italy, Marta dreamt of leaving her small town of San Valentino as a child to be an actress in Rome. Instead, she would grow up to work as a governess for most of her life, first for the children of a French diplomat family in Paris, and then for the Kennedy children, six years after their father’s assassination. Marta taught herself to speak five languages while living and working in France, Greece, and the US. She also taught herself how to cook, simply by watching chefs hired to cook for the family.
“I’m the opposite of Paula Deen. I use vegetable juices and lean meats instead of butter,” she said. “I shouldn’t say it though, because I’d like to go on her show someday,” Marta joked. Marta won’t tell anyone her real age, but is most likely in her late 70s, according to Caroline Kennedy’s younger daughter Tatiana Schlossberg, who joined us in Marta’s apartment last week to learn how to cook her staple truffle risotto.
Marta is marked by her playful sense of humor and her honesty, according to Tatiana. “She always tells people what she thinks about them, even if it’s not a nice thing all of the time,” Tatiana said. When her nephew had an issue with his visa a few years ago, Marta called up Immigration Customs & Enforcement to tell the agents that they “give America a bad name” and when a man was rude to her last year in a grocery store, she admonished him by telling him that he was an “orangutan, a man of the woods.”
But Marta isn’t all sass. “She’s a saint,” she’s selfless, she’s kind, she’s regimented, and she’s loyal,” according to Tatiana. Journalist Christiane Amanpour met Marta through her college friendship with John Kennedy Jr. and the two women have stayed very close for more than 30 years, frequently visiting each others’ houses for dinner. Amanpour says Marta’s thoughtfulness and her love for animals has made all the difference when her own dog Mindu has wandered off in the park.