THE only way I can describe her is: `a lady,' a woman who carries herself with dignity, her own flair, with no scandal attached,'' said James Guldner.
``I saw her as a great mother,'' offered Elizabeth Veeser.
``She certainly was a role model for me. She had all the conventional womanly attributes; she didn't let others dictate to her, yet she fulfilled her own family obligations,'' commented Mariam Cronin.
On Friday, these visitors and many others at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, Mass., spoke fondly about the former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who died the night before. Though many who converged at the I.M. Pei-designed structure on Boston Harbor said they felt saddened by her death, the mood here was not entirely one of gloom. Boisterous students and adults paying tribute, amid scattered TV reporters, seemed to prevent a pall from settling in at the library that Onassis, herself a book editor, helped found in 1964.
Ms. Veeser, of Farmington Hills, Mich., had no trouble explaining the mood she felt. ``People are just in awe of who she was and what she stood for.''
Ironically, the sunny sky and brisk air brought to mind another clear day last October, when a stunning Onassis - wearing a dark suit, sunglasses, and gold jewelry - stepped out of a shiny blue sedan to join a happy Kennedy clan and President Clinton for a rededication of the revamped museum.
Despite her passing, the museum was open to the public on Friday. For many who came, the timing of their visit added something special to the experience. Middle school teacher Kevin Keaveney brought his eighth-graders. ``I want my students to focus on the mood of the exhibit, but [Onassis's death] will add to that mood. Hopefully, they'll remember this day,'' he said.
Marilyn Butner, traveling with five friends from Brea, Calif., said: ``It makes it more meaningful for me to be here today.'' Coincidentally, they had come from Onassis's home in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and her stepfather's Newport, R.I., estate.
Bruce Moyer, of Selinsgrove, Pa., was also on a Kennedy pilgrimage of sorts. He had just gone to Dallas, where he saw the spot where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Mostly, though, people here wanted to reflect on Onassis's elegant style and determined courage in the face of great family tragedy.
``She had an interesting, delicate voice that seemed different from all of her life, because she seemed like a pretty tough lady,'' said Mr. Moyer. ``She was sort of a legend. She brought culture to this country from her education in France and visit to India.''
Though he admits knowing little about Onassis, Jerome Dykstra, a Dutch waiter on the Royal Viking Sun cruise ship, says: ``She was very, very loved by the people. [The Kennedys] were the `Couple of the Century.' ''
To Mr. Keaveney, Onassis's life was most important for her role as first lady. ``She asserted herself the best way she could at that time. It took 30 years, but she set the stage for Hillary Rodham Clinton, a politically active first lady.''
Ms. Cronin, who is also a teacher, is trying to impart to her pupils the can-do spirit she says was personified by Kennedy and his wife. ``It's now the end of Camelot, the end of that whole we-could-make-a-difference era.''
On Friday, personnel of the library and its foundation issued a statement to the press that reads, in part: ``Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a bountiful source of ideas and inspiration in the development of this institution.... Our grief is tempered by the realization of all she accomplished, ... and by the spirit of hope and the perpetual optimism that she brought to her life and shared so willingly with those who knew her.''
Cronin's student Jill Mailloux wrapped up her impressions succinctly: ``I think she changed the role of women. She ... had a family, was the president's wife, yet also a private person.''