JFK Jr. might have been president: A friend imagines the future 20 years after his death

PHOTO: John F. Kennedy Jr. talks on the phone at the desk of his chief of staff RoseMarie Terenzio.PlayRoseMarie Terenzio
WATCH John F. Kennedy Jr.'s chief of staff reflects on his death 20 years later

RoseMarie Terenzio was John F. Kennedy Jr.'s good friend, close confidante and his chief of staff at "George" magazine. She is also the author of a book about Kennedy, "Fairytale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love and Loss."

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Two decades after Kennedy died in a plane crash with his wife and sister-in-law, Terenzio imagines what might have been for the son of former president John F. Kennedy.

John F. Kennedy Jr. became a public figure the day he came into the world. He was born into the White House to President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy.

As he grew up, his every move drew the attention of the media and the public. He was photographed constantly as he navigated his way through the streets of New York City on foot, by subway and weaving through traffic on his bike. No matter how many photographs or videos were taken, the public could never get enough of the dashing young man who, amidst all the chaos, had a humble grace about him.

John, the son of a political dynasty, was often referred to as “American Royalty” but John was not royal.

PHOTO: John F. Kennedy Jr. talks on the phone at the desk of his chief of staff RoseMarie Terenzio. RoseMarie Terenzio
John F. Kennedy Jr. talks on the phone at the desk of his chief of staff RoseMarie Terenzio.

He was a man who understood that his legacy was linked to the generation who came before him – that of his late father, President John F. Kennedy.

Like his father, John’s life was tragically cut short.

What remained for many Americans after his father was assassinated was the sense of “what might have been." The hopes and dreams that never came to fruition for his father were now transferred to him. He symbolized, for a grieving nation, the hope and future of America.

John possessed the character that would have made him a great presidential candidate. He embodied hope, confidence, charisma and most of all, dignity.

But what would have made him a great president was his integrity. He had all the trappings of power but he didn’t seek it, nor did he abuse it. He was a man who was invested in the success of others and lifting people to their highest potential.

In my five years working as John's chief of staff, I got to know the human side of a man who was extraordinarily humane. With all of his fame and privilege, he understood people -- and what it truly meant to be an American.

PHOTO: John F. Kennedy, Jr. gives his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy a kiss on the cheek during the annual White House Correspondents dinner May 1, 1999 in Washington, D.C. Tyler Mallory/Getty Images, FILE
John F. Kennedy, Jr. gives his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy a kiss on the cheek during the annual White House Correspondents dinner May 1, 1999 in Washington, D.C.

If John F. Kennedy Jr. would have run for president, he would have done so because he believed in America, not as a romantic, patriotic ideal, but as a country filled with diverse people from different backgrounds, people who did not have not have the wealth of opportunities he did.

He understood that he was not like everyone else and he worked hard to level that playing field for others. He believed, if you gave people opportunity, along with responsibility, they would rise to the occasion and ultimately succeed.

John understood the dignity that came with opportunity and that if you put people in a bit over their heads they would rise to the occasion. He could have had anyone he wanted working for him but he hired me, a Bronx girl from a blue-collar working family with no Ivy League education, and gave me a chance.

He gave me more responsibility than I was prepared for and I continued to grow and learn that what John valued more than anything was loyalty and a strong work ethic.

PHOTO: RoseMarie Terenzio remembers her good friend John F. Kennedy Jr. on Good Morning America, July 16, 2019. ABC News
RoseMarie Terenzio remembers her good friend John F. Kennedy Jr. on "Good Morning America," July 16, 2019.

The charity he founded, “Reaching Up,” was the epitome of this philosophy. Giving front-line workers who cared for people with disabilities access to higher education and an opportunity to be successful in their field would provide better care for the disabled.

If John ever had the chance to occupy the White House, his presidency would be about lifting people up and giving them the chance to realize their potential.

That's what he believed America stood for: hope.

John would have been a hands-on leader as he was at George magazine. Toiling away late at night with his staff, sleeves rolled up and doing whatever it took to get the job done, even if that meant playing receptionist.

John wasn't above the people. He lived his life among us and for that he will always be remembered as exceptional to those who knew him.

Aside from losing a mentor, boss and dear friend, there is great sadness that Americans will never have this man inspiring us as a nation the way he inspired me.