WASHINGTON (AP) — The special assistant to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, believed to be one of the first persons of Latino descent to work in the White House as part of the president’s inner circle, has died.
Providencia Paredes’ son, Gustavo, announced her death on his Facebook page. Paredes died in Washington on March 18 at the age of 90.
Gustavo Paredes described his mother as a “pioneer, role model and icon for many,” and “a woman of immense will, passion, curiosity and a zest for life.” Paredes was born in San Pedro de Macoris in 1924. She arrived in the United States in 1948 alongside Luis Francisco Thomen, the Ambassador to the United States from the Dominican Republic for whom she did domestic work. Soon after her arrival she met John F. Kennedy, then a Congressman in Massachusetts. When Kennedy became a U.S. senator, he asked Paredes to continue working for him, and help his newly minted wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, with her affairs. When Kennedy was elected president and moved into the White House in 1961, he sent for Paredes.
“When he moved to the White House he said, ‘I want Provi, because she’s the best,'” Gustavo said. “That’s how she ended up as Jackie’s personal assistant.”
During his presidency Kennedy endeavored to improve relations between the United States and Latin America. In 1961, Kennedy established the Alliance for Progress, and proposed a $20 billion loan to Latin American nations with the goal of promoting democracy there. Kennedy and Onassis traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia, and met with six presidents of Central American governments in Costa Rica.
In addition to helping the first lady keep track of her engagements, field phone calls, and interface with the fashion designers for whom Onassis became a muse, Paredes often helped her practice her Spanish in advance of speeches in Latin American countries or before Hispanic communities.
In her role as special assistant Paredes traveled the world with the Kennedys on trips, both personal and official. Gustavo said there were only two trips Provi, as she was nicknamed, did not attend: a trip to Canada early in Kennedy’s presidency, and his last, to Dallas. It was Provi, however, who selected the light pink suit Onassis wore on the day Kennedy was killed that has since become an emblem of his assassination.
“He said, ‘make sure she has clothes appropriate for the weather,'” Gustavo Paredes said of the conversation between his mother and Kennedy in the days before Dallas. “My mother said, ‘how about the pink suit?’ My mother set everything up: personal items, the dresses, the jewelry, the details.”
In a 2013 interview, Paredes told Fox News Latino about seeing Onassis for the first time after Kennedy was killed.
“We went into a room, just she and I, and she broke down. She said, ‘They could have killed me too.’ She said she was very afraid,” Paredes said.
Paredes remained close to the Kennedy family after Kennedy’s assassination, subsequently working for U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy until his death, traveling with him to Los Angeles during his presidential campaign.
“She broke the barrier of what an American was: she was making trips with the president, representing the aspiration of the American dream,” Gustavo said. “From her humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic, she ended up flying around the world representing the country of her birth as well as her newfound country.”
She is survived by her two sons, Gustavo A. Paredes, 60, and Hector A. Corporan, 69; and four grandchildren, Ariel J. Paredes, 35; Margarita Corporan, 42; Guillermo Corporan, 35; and Sofia Corporan, 28.