Marta Sgubin was never merely an employee in the Onassis home. As a governess to Caroline and John Jr. – 11 and 8 respectively, when she arrived – then a cook for and companion to Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and later a nanny for Caroline Kennedy’s children, Rose, John and Tatiana Schlossberg, Ms. Sgubin was – and, forty-six years later, still is – a respected, beloved friend.
She always had a place at the table for family meals.
Full of joy, warmth and an embracing love for animals, Sgubin immediately became devoted to Mrs. Onassis, “Madam,” as she called her. Soon after she joined the family at their Newport residence in 1969 she requested that the dogs sleep in her bedroom.
Ms. Sgubin was born in the tiny village of San Valentino, population 400, in northern Italy. She longed to be an actress, but instead became a governess at the age of 18 in the home of a French diplomatic family, Monsieur and Madame Gaussen, in Venice. She continued to study acting in Venice, but decided to move with the family to Paris and continue to improve her French (Sgubin speaks five languages) and study the etiquette she had not learned as a child. She also attended the Sorbonne and achieved a diploma in French literature. She moved to Boston and then Washington, D.C. with the Gaussen family.
While in the nation’s capital she met Mrs. Hugh (Janet) Auchincloss, Jacqueline Onasiss’s mother. Both were part of a French theatre group called La Marotte. Mrs. Auchincloss determined that Ms. Sgubin would be the perfect governess and companion for her grandchildren. Ms. Sgubin didn’t want to leave the diplomatic family and the now nearly-grown daughter she was hired to care for, but she was wooed away. While visiting Paris, Mr. Onassis made a point of interviewing Ms. Sgubin. Soon thereafter she received an invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Onassis to meet them in Greece. Mme Gaussen, who was now like a mother to Ms. Sgubin, urged her to take the job with the Onassis family. Ms. Sgubin was in her mid-30s when she joined them.
After Caroline and John no longer needed her as their nanny, Sgubin became a cook for and companion to Mrs. Onassis. Sgubin taught herself how to cook by working with and observing the chef on Mr. Onassis’s enormous yacht and the chefs who catered Mrs. Onassis’s parties.
When Mrs. Onassis died in 1994 and her Fifth Avenue apartment was sold, Sgubin moved into the Schlossberg apartment at 929 Park Avenue to help raise Caroline and Edwin Schlossberg’s family. When the children were grown and the Schlossbergs moved, Caroline bought the apartment for her nanny.
According to the broker for the apartment sale quoted in the New York Times in 2005, when the apartment was given to Ms. Sgubin, “It was clear to me that Ms. Sgubin’s happiness was of paramount importance to John Kennedy and to his sister Caroline.”
I am in awe of the Onassis-Kennedy family’s relationship with their beloved Marta. Not every family with a nanny has the money to buy an apartment for their longtime family employee, friend and all-but-blood family member, but they all have the ability treat their nanny with respect, affection and appreciation. Unfortunately, my parents’ relationship with my nanny, Elizabeth Hanna, which I wrote about in my book, Nanny: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, was precisely the opposite.
The information in this article is adapted from Ms. Sgubin’s book, Cooking For Madam, (Scribner, 1998) and from an article by ABC News posted online in 2013. (http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/Ms. Sgubin-Ms. Sgubin-caring-kennedys/story?id=18702599). A charming interview of Ms. Sgubin by Tatiana Schlossberg can be viewed on the ABC News link above.