My Tribute to Letitia Baldrige, Chief of Staff to Jacqueline Kennedy

by Diane Marcus, Essential Business Etiquette

A great master in the field of etiquette and protocol has passed away. When I first considered becoming an etiquette consultant, I began reading biographies of other woman who made etiquette their career. One of the first books I read was Letitia Baldrige’s “The Complete Guide to Executive Manners”. Letitia got her reputation, the hard way, she earned it. She worked in US embassies in France and Italy and later at Tiffany’s. The job she was the most famous for was being Chief of Staff to Jackie Kennedy. After the White House, she ran her own public relations firms and continued to work with diplomats and business men and women. She showed them how they could succeed by knowing business and social etiquette skills.

We have all heard how the White House in the Kennedy years was called “Camelot”. This had to be because of Letitia Baldrige, guiding the first couple and their staff through a series of high level events, one after the other. It was because of these high level events and the way guests were treated that treaties were signed and business was granted between countries. Some say much business is done on the golf course and that is true, but many deals are also made because guests are treated with the upmost respect and care was given to every detail.

The world became a more civilized place as a result of Letitia’s skillful handling of various diplomats and their wives. The Kennedy’s knew that when they entertained royalty and presidents and prime ministers, they needed to show the world that the United States was just as capable of entertaining in style as Buckingham Palace. And entertain they did. We still love to see the glamorous pictures of Jackie in her long gowns and jewelry and Jack in his tuxedo.

Although we see the Kennedy’s and their staff in the pictures, Letitia was the person who was responsible for these affairs and she did her job well. She took care of the invitations, decided who would sit next to who, what kind of music should be played, what should be served for dinner and how the table was set.

She wrote her books with humor and told how when she made a mistake, she had to go way out of her way to make it up to a high level diplomat. People can be easily offended, and at that high level, if she was not careful, a faux pas cost her and the first couple dearly. She would have to owe that diplomat huge favors to make up for her mistake. Letitia was a pro in doing that and skillfully maneuvered her way around one situation after another.

Even though the Kennedy’s got all the credit, it was Letitia who staged all the social events. For a while, there were some years when everyone wanted to emulate the higher class and most people dressed well and entertained in style. So what has happened since then? People have decided that they just don’t want to go through all the effort to entertain in style and dress for success.

One reason women may be reluctant to entertain in style is because they are working full time and taking care of their families and they are just too tired to “go the extra mile” when entertaining, and rightfully so. However, when it comes to business and in politics, there is a protocol that should be followed.

As soon as you leave the United States and you travel to Canada and Mexico, you will notice a slightly higher level of dress and manners than in the United States. When you travel abroad and neglect to do some research, you may make a faux pas and you can say goodbye to the deal. All the money your company has spent to get you to another country will be lost.

What I am trying to say is that, although we are a bit lax in the United States when it comes to dress and etiquette, most other countries still have a formality that we need to know about. Sales people and executives and newly elected politicians should give great care to transitioning from the office to the networking event to the formal dinner with the client here in the United States and when traveling to do business in another country.

Although there are many other fine leading ladies in the fields of etiquette, Letitia’s efforts were seen on television and in magazines and newspapers all over the world. I want to salute her and thank her for making us aware of how to act and thank her for teaching us that knowing proper protocol can have a huge effect on international relations and business. She was a woman who paid great attention to detail and dotted all her I’s and crossed all her T’s. She was a great writer and knew her profession well. Letitia was an excellent role model for me and I remain in awe of her career. “Well done good and faithful servant”.

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