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In Memory Of Lauren Bessette, Carolyn Bessette's Sister Who Died 20 Years Ago In The Plane Crash With JFK Jr.

Photo: AP
Who was Carolyn Bessette's sister Lauren Bessette who died in the plane crash with JFK Jr.?

It’s been 20 years since John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and Bessette’s sister, Lauren, died in a plane crash. On July 16, 1999, the aircraft, piloted by Kennedy, crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off of Martha’s Vineyard. The three were planning to attend the wedding of Kennedy’s cousin, Rory, to her now husband, Mark Bailey.

To commemorate and remember these lives lost, TLC aired a two-hour special called JFK Jr. and Carolyn’s Wedding: The Lost Tapes, focusing on the couple’s wedding three years before the plane crash. But the “tapes” and other documentaries don’t usually talk about Lauren.

Who was Lauren Bessette? Turns out, she may actually have been more successful than her sister and brother-in-law.

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1. She was quite intelligent.

Lauren's 1982 Greenwich High School yearbook photo (Photo: AP)

Lauren graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1986, majoring in economics. The college now has a lab in the Asian Languages and Cultures program named after her.

After she graduated, she worked as an analyst at Morgan Stanley, leaving to earn her MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. She graduated in 1991, and moved to Hong Kong in 1994, where she once again worked for Morgan Stanley. Lauren was also fluent in Mandarin.

According to her friends and colleagues, she had a quick wit, and was “brilliant, compassionate... a champion of those who were struggling. After her death, one colleague told the New York Observer, “She may have been more successful than [John and Carolyn] were.”

Said Adam Clammer, a friend and co-worker, “She would walk into a room and people would think, ‘Okay, somebody brought their assistant.’ And she’d get up and present the IPO pitch in Mandarin, and people would be like, ‘What? I’ve never seen anything like this.’ She was so humble yet so smart and poised.”

2. She was also very fashionable.

Clammer continued to praise and remember his friend, saying, “She had a huge heart, she had time for everybody, she had no ego, she had a wonderful sense of humor, she had a great sense of style... she loved her Prada. This was back when Prada was the coolest thing ever.” 

And the sisters all had a love of fashion. Chip Arndt, another colleague of Lauren’s who worked with her in Hong Kong and New York, believes that they may have gone into business together: “Lauren was very fashion-forward. That was right at the time when women started to dress more expressively at work, especially in our industry. Rather than wearing little gray and black suits, women started wearing much more fashion-forward things: boots, dresses. Lauren was very, very fashionable.”

3. And was humble.

Photo: AP

According to Ardnt, Lauren was always concerned about her younger colleagues or newcomers. 

He recalled, “She was always there to ask, ‘How are you guys doing?’—understanding that we were the last ones to turn the lights out in the office and the first ones in the office. She didn’t have to do any of that. She built a camaraderie with the junior cadre. She understood leadership in that regard: really understand and respect your underlings and the work they’re doing. She loved color — color in human beings, color in how they dress, color in their personalities.”

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4. Lauren was very close to Carolyn.

When she transferred to the Morgan Stanley Manhattan office in 1998, Lauren purchased a loft a few blocks from Carolyn and John. And this led to her becoming an even closer part of Carolyn’s life as the wife of a Kennedy. Ardnt remembers, “Every time I saw them together it was just smiles and laughter and sometimes serious conversation. You could really tell that they were each other’s confidantes in that regard.”

5. She tried to stay out of the spotlight.

Though Carolyn was in the limelight, Lauren tried to keep a low profile. At the time of her death, she was rumored to have been dating Bobby Shriver, John’s first cousin. And although she was part of the Manhattan social scene, according to Clammer, she enjoyed the fact that her presence wasn’t as prevalent in the media.

“I remember that when they got engaged Lauren was very private about it. She was super-happy for her sister but at the same time, in a positive way, she tried to keep that entirely separate from her own life,” he said.

6. The death of her sisters deeply impacted Lisa, Lauren’s twin.

Photo: AP

Lauren and Lisa were 14 months older than Carolyn. But after both of her sisters passed away, Lisa apparently went off the grid. An article in Town and Country points out, “Even after settling in Ann Arbor, she kept her circle of friends and acquaintances small. She has no known social media accounts and even recent images of her are nearly impossible to find.”

An acquaintance of the Bessette family revealed to The New York Post, “She had a really hard time when they passed away and was strong for her mother and her family and has since decided that she doesn’t want to be in any way public.” And shortly after the crash, the relationship between the Kennedys and Bessettes started to disintegrate. 

Historian and author, Steven M. Gillion, said, “The family was never comfortable with the marriage. Their mom at the wedding the night before gave a toast where she essentially said she didn’t think this was the right marriage for her daughter. Then, of course, their worst fears were realized.” The surviving family of Lauren and Carolyn filed a wrongful death suit, the sum of which was paid from the Kennedy estate.

Still, Lisa continues to live a quiet life away from the media. Even her neighbors didn’t realize who she was! Said neighbors, “I house-sit for them in the summer and she’s never breathed a word about it to me. They don’t socialize. They’re a little quiet...” Lisa works part-time at the University of Michigan Art Museum as a “contract editor.”

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.