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Mimi Alford, author of "Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and its Aftermath."

Tina Fineberg, AP

JFK 'mistress' finds her voice

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN
  • Star Tribune
  • February 21, 2012 - 9:23 AM

Mimi Alford says she lost her virginity to President John F. Kennedy at age 19. It was her fourth day on the job as a White House intern.

For the next 18 months, they carried on a sexual relationship in which the president was the aggressor, according to the 69-year-old retiree’s explosive new memoir, “Once Upon a Secret.”

She largely kept the secret until 2003, when historian Robert Dallek referenced the affair and the president’s womanizing ways in a book on Kennedy. The media seized upon the tidbit and soon uncovered the Alford’s identity.

“I had spent the last forty years in fear of being hunted down, found out, exposed. And now that moment had come,” wrote Alford, who was working at a New York church at the time.

Unlike Barbara Walters, who scolded her during a recent appearance on “The View,” I don’t begrudge Alford for writing the book. She wanted to tell what happened in her own words and on her own terms, rather than leaving it to the media and historians.

“That secret affected my whole entire life,” she told the disapproving Walters. “I actually feel liberated. I do.”

Walters wasn’t buying it.

“She remembers every detail,” she said in a sarcastic voice to her audience. “She says [the president] offered her drugs. He made her do oral sex and also satisfy his best friend…. She’ll make a lot of money.”

In reading the book, it’s not hard to imagine the young Alford as the naïve, upper crust college teen caught off-guard, then swept up by the dashing young president’s advances. Even while being sexual intimate, she said she never kissed him on the mouth or wavered from addressing him as “Mr. President.”

On the day of Kennedy’s assassination, she told her fiancé, Tony Fahnestock, about the affair and how it had continued during their courtship. He married her anyway, but demanded the matter be kept secret. The marriage lasted 26 years, though Alford cheated on the now-deceased Fahnestock at least once.

What’s missing from the book are mea culpas and the kind of sophisticated self-reflection that we expect from an adult looking back on the transgressions of their youth. Alford isn’t remorseful.

“I am Mimi Alford and I do not regret what I did,” she wrote. “I was young, and I was swept away, and I cannot change the fact.”

A little empathy for the Kennedy family isn’t too much to ask. How hard is it to say: “Looking back, I’m disappointed that President Kennedy wasn’t the kind of man who was faithful to his wife and I wasn’t strong enough to reject his advances.”

Or: “ I’m sorry for whatever harm my behavior may have caused their marriage.”

Better yet: “I’m sorry for the pain this story will cause the Kennedy family, particularly the president’s only living child, Caroline.”

We all make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. If only that were true of Alford.

As for the president's behavior? There's no excuse.

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Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

© 2014 Star Tribune