For 63 years, she kept her “madly in love” affair with John F. Kennedy a buried secret — until now.
Today, Diana de Vegh is an 83-year-old grandmother of two who is legally blind and maintains her private psychotherapy practice of 20 years out of her West Village apartment. But in 1958, she was a soul-searching Radcliffe College junior, rapt as JFK delivered a galvanizing senatorial re-election campaign speech in a Boston ballroom.
Suddenly, he was at her table, asking to sit next to her, then personally inviting her to an event the following week.
“Give me your seat, so a tired old man can sit next to a pretty girl,” de Vegh recalled JFK telling her date at the event, initiating the pair’s first, seemingly innocent meeting.
The future 35th US president and his coed conquest would sleep together on and off for the next four years.
“I didn’t realize then that I’d simply been netted, separated from the other students,” she wrote for Graydon Carter’s digital weekly, Air Mail News on Saturday, in her first public telling of her secret romance with the charismatic American icon-to-be. “I was 20 years old, with a full supply of hormones and madly in love with this compelling man.”
JFK was already a married 40-year-old with a notoriously bad back.
No matter, the rising star senator initiated regular rendezvous with his starstruck student: A clandestine driver would scoop up de Vegh from her off-campus residence and cart her to wherever he was campaigning. She’d be tended to by staff who’d call her “sweetheart” and fetch her coffee (“what they were actually doing was making sure I was inconspicuous at these public events and remained at an appropriate distance from the center of attention”) before JFK joined her for the drive home after.
“You know I’m working pretty hard for just one vote here,” he would often tease her once they were together in the car.
“It was easy, and emotionally convenient,” she explained of JFK’s reasoning for the routine, “because Mrs. [Jacqueline] Kennedy did not participate at this level of suburban campaigning.”
They’d make love in a Boston apartment he kept and at the Carlyle Hotel on NYC’s Upper East Side. Still, she longed for more than scraps of his time and attention, and eventually moved to Washington, DC, to be near to him as he pursued the nation’s highest office. “It will be better there,” de Vegh told Air Mail he assured after she admitted she didn’t feel cared for by President Kennedy.
At the time, rumors of this powerful public figure’s carnal Camelot marathon — from aristocratic Swedish mistresses to shared-with-Sinatra mob molls to doomed Hollywood bombshell Marilyn Monroe — were nothing more than hushed whispers that wouldn’t dare reach the mainstream until decades later.
Then, in 1962, Commander-in-Chief JFK discovered de Vegh’s father was the same Hungarian economist he’d recently begun consulting with on political affairs. He called Diana to his Georgetown home and asked her to confirm the fact.
“He had nothing against me, but he realized it could really be a problem, because a lot of people knew my dad, but he couldn’t just drop me, so we had to kind of dwindle,” she explained to The Post. “I didn’t realize quite what was going on, but then things shifted radically.”
And so JFK began to put her “back on the shelf.” They met less, he began calling her “cold” (even though she felt he was the cold one), she told Air Mail. As their meetings diminished so did her sense of self, and she decided to run away to Paris.
She can’t recall the exact location of their final meeting, either his home or the Oval Office, but it was the last time she ever saw him. JFK was assassinated the following year.
“I just went completely numb,” she told The Post of the moment she heard the news. “I was having dinner in a bistro in my neighborhood and it came on the news and I thought, this can’t be true. I went home and went to bed and the next day I got every copy of every newspaper.”
She enveloped herself in a world of expat artists, got engaged, got married, moved back to the US and went to Yale, had two daughters, moved to New York, got divorced, went to Columbia, became a social worker, found a new partner — and told hardly anyone about her illicit affair with John F. Kennedy.
“Back then, nice girls did not have sex, that was a no-kidding-around situation, so I did not talk about it. It just wasn’t something I discussed,” she told The Post. Instead of dealing with or sharing the experience it instead became “a pocket of dead energy” she carried around with her.
However, the affair had been an unspoken secret in Washington (“there were plenty of rumors”) and two separate journalists eventually reached out to her; she spoke to them and they shared her story — but only anonymously. Marion Fay “Mimi” Alford, who had an affair with JFK while a White House intern, also reached out to de Vegh while writing her 2011 memoir “Once Upon a Secret.”
“She wrote to me, and I wrote back and said I wished her well but really had nothing to say,” de Vegh recalled to The Post.
De Vegh’s experience also appears in Sally Bedell Smith’s 2004 tell-all “Grace and Power,” but de Vegh claims she only spoke with Smith on a (broken) promise of anonymity.
While she’d share her story off-the-record with those who asked, de Vegh felt no compulsion to tell it herself until recently, when she realized that, despite the progress of feminism and the #MeToo movement, many young women continue to worship older men instead of respecting themselves. She believes sharing her story now will be worth it if it can convince even one woman to reevaluate a toxic, unequal power-dynamic relationship — and learn to devote some of her romantic energy to self-love instead.
“The whole idea of conferred specialness — ‘You go to bed with me, I’ll make you special’ — we’ve seen a lot of that with Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, show business,” she told The Post.
Her relationship with JFK, while consensual, was in many ways the epitome of this toxic idolatry of men, she feels. “I was prepared to just look straight up at JFK. I never thought he would be engaged with me, I hoped that he would ‘love’ me,” she explained of her own misplaced respect for him instead of herself in the relationship.
She does not regret their affair “because in the long run it taught me something I needed to know,” but if she was aware then as she is today of how caring and equal romantic partnerships can be, she firmly believes she would never have let her heart be broken by a man so ready to cast her aside the moment it became inconvenient.