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Island resident Helen Westbrook, who worked in JFK’s White House, dies at 88

STORY BY STEPHANIE LABAFF (Week of June 17, 2021)

Island resident Helen Westbrook, 88, who worked for many years in politics and government, including serving on the White House staff under President John F. Kennedy, passed away on June 4.

Inspired by a speech given by then Sen. John F. Kennedy in her hometown in Massachusetts, Westbrook, then 23, moved to Washington, D.C. in 1956 to serve on Kennedy’s senatorial staff.

She later worked on his campaign for president in 1960. When Kennedy won, he asked Westbrook to join his White House staff, where she served as a Secretarial Assistant in the Office of the President. 

Westbrook later worked following Kennedy’s death as executive assistant to Jacqueline Kennedy, where she became close to the family’s children, John and Caroline.

Her closeness to the Kennedy family was illustrated at a 2015 auction featuring articles related to President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during their time at the White House.

Among the items were a gold vermeil over sterling cigarette case from Tiffany & Co. gifted to Westbrook from Jacqueline, along with pictures drawn by Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr. to bid Westbrook farewell when she left Jacqueline Kennedy’s employ to start her own family.

After raising her children, Richard and Catherine, Westbrook returned to the federal government, where she began a career with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So intertwined with the Kennedy family was Westbrook, JFK’s brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy took time to recognize her years of service during Congressional proceedings in November 1999, just prior to her retirement from NOAA.

Noting her distinguished service to the country, Sen. Kennedy said, “This is a special occasion for me and the Kennedy family, as Helen is truly one of our own.”

Sen. Kennedy recalled the occasion of Westbrook’s initial meeting with his brother, JFK, then a senator, during an address in Chicopee, Massachusetts, where Westbrook was born and raised.

“Like many other Americans of that time, Helen heard and heeded my brother’s call to public service,” said Kennedy,.

He added, “Helen Westbrook is a kind, thoughtful person who truly cares about people.

“She has brought professionalism, wisdom, and dedication to each position that she has held. She is a valued and loyal friend of the Kennedy family. We don’t have enough Helen Westbrooks in government and in the world.”