Obituary: Roswell Gilpatric

Roswell Gilpatric's great moment came in the tensest moments of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. In private, he was widely believed to have been the lover of Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Gilpatric was a member of "Ex Comm", the top-level working group President John F. Kennedy had entrusted with managing the US response to Nikita Khrushchev's decision to deploy Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. The President's national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, had put forward the case for bombing the Soviet missile sites in Cuba, from which Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads could reach much of the United States. Gilpatric's boss, the defence secretary Robert S. McNamara, argued against bombing, saying no one could tell how the Russians would respond. As Ken-nedy hesitated, Gilpatric, the Wall Street lawyer, intervened.

"Essentially, Mr President," he said, "this is a choice between limited action and unlimited action, and most of us think it is better to start with limited action."

On other occasions, however, Gilpatric took a hard line. A staunch Cold Warrior, he had served as Under-Secretary of the Air Force in the Eisenhower Administration. He was the head of a secret task force of which General Edward Lansdale, the original of Graham Greene's The Quiet American, was a member. Its brief was "to prevent Communist domination of Vietnam", and Gilpatric consistently argued for US commitment.

He also signed off on the overthrow, though not explicitly on the murder, of General Diem, the leader of the pro-American government of South Vietnam. (Diem was removed from power by a military coup with American approval, given on McNamara's behalf by Gilpatric, so far as the Pentagon was concerned. The balance of evidence suggests that Washington officials were not aware that the Diem family were to be killed.)

Gilpatric was, too, a member of the "special group" which planned Operation Mongoose, the CIA' s dirty tricks campaign against Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Gilpatric's cautious advice against bombing Cuba was characteristic of the calm Wall Street lawyer. A lifelong Republican, Ros Gilpatric was a partner from 1940 to 1977 in Cravath, Swain and Moore, one of the two or three most prestigious of the "white shoe" Wall Street law firms. His clients included major banks and industrial corporations and especially defence and aerospace companies.

Gilpatric was the epitome of the "dollar-a-year men" of what had been called the "American Establishment" who came down from Wall Street to serve in government before returning to "the private practice of law". He was a protege of one of the most celebrated of them, Robert Lovett.

He came from an upper-class New York background and was educated at the Hotchkiss School, a famous private boarding school, and at Yale. He was a childhood friend of Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

President Kennedy used to question him closely about Rockefeller's plans, his character and his girlfriends. "He has lots," said Gilpatric. "How does he get away with it?" asked the President, who was getting away with "it" himself at the time on an epic scale.

By a twist of history, it is widely believed that Gilpatric himself became the lover of the President's widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, after his death and before she married Aristotle Onassis.

A brother Wall Street lawyer offered for sale letters written to Gilpatric by Mrs Kennedy over a five-year period, beginning before his assassination. The letters were subpoenaed by the third Mrs Roswell Gilpatric, who was then seeking a legal separation.

The letters are intimate but inconclusive as to the nature of his friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy. One of them, written just after her marriage to Onassis, said, "I hope you know all you were and are and will ever be to me." It was signed, "With my love, J". But Gilpatric denied that he and Mrs Kennedy Onassis had ever been anything but the best of friends.

From 1972 to 1975 Gilpatric served as chairman of Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He was also a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum and of the New York Public Library.

Godfrey Hodgson

Roswell Leavitt Gilpatric, lawyer and administrator: born 4 November 1906; married five times (one son, two daughters); died New York 15 March 1996.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada