There are images people cannot forget. Jacqueline Kennedy's anguish is among them.

From the open car in which John Kennedy was shot dead next to her; to the plane where she stood, frozen in pain, next to Lyndon Johnson as he was sworn in as president; to the state funeral where she watched her husband buried - the images refuse to fade.

Even as the 25th anniversary of her husband's assassination approaches next Tuesday, Americans remember a young, beautiful face contorted with grief, a dress splattered with blood.

For many, it is hard to believe the young widow of memory is nearing 60.

She is an editor at a major publishing house, a grandmother, a jogger around Central Park, a fighter for the preservation of a New York that is continually being ripped down.

She is also as mysterious as ever, the most private public person in America.

"I don't know of anyone who has had such intense publicity and maintained such privacy at the same time," says author Stephen Birmingham, whose books include a biography of her.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis did something no other first lady in American history ever acheived - she turned the White House into a glamorous castle, a place to charm a visiting Charles de Gaulle by asking the aloof general who was the most amusing man he ever met.

It was she who gave the 1,000-day Kennedy presidency its "Camelot" veneer and it was she who suggested that image to describe an administration whose goals and dreams were cut short by an assassin.

Now 25 years later she survives reputation intact while historians argue over her husband's brief rule.

"I used to think of her as an aloof, ice princess but now I realize she is the hero of the Kennedy era," says one Kennedy-era journalist.

In the days and years that followed her husband's death, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis singlemindedly pursued one goal - protecting her two children, Caroline and John Jr., from an outside world eager to strangle them with attention.

Author Birmingham thinks he knows why:

"I was in her apartment house, the night Bobby Kennedy was murdered. We saw crowds gather around the building, then we saw the street vendors appear selling bagels, hot dogs and cheap jewelry. By the time she left the building it was a terrifying mob scene and she had to cut through it."

He added, "After Bob Kennedy's death she said to people there is a plot to kill Kennedys and she was fearful for her kids."

Birmingham believes that is why she married Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping millionaire who collected celebrities the way Imelda Marcos amassed shoes.

"She wanted security and he gave her that - and in fact may have been the only man in the world who could give her that. He gave her security guards, guards for Caroline and John Jr., her own Greek island and the security of millions of dollars."

Her children, by all accounts, grew up living as normal lives as possible. Carolyn, 30, is married to the New York artist Edwin Schlossberg and the mother of a one-year-old daughter, Rose. John Jr. is 28 and a law student who recently was featured on the cover of "People" magazine as the "sexiest man in America."

The seven-year-marriage to Onassis ended with his death in 1975. It was not, by several accounts, a happy union of media superstars 0 the mega millionaire and the world's most glamourous woman.

Jacqueline Onassis was reported to have been given a settlement of $26 million by Onassis's daughter Christina, who died Saturday (Story on A1). With that money in the bank, she went to work - taking a job at a publishing house as a part time editor.

The press camped out at Viking Press and when she switched publishers, the press camped out at Doubleday, the firm where she still works today.

She entered Doubleday's cafeteria the first day with, as Time magazine reported, heads turning like pages in a book. Then the cashier broke the spell, saying, "Well, Jackie, what will it be."

Now she is an accepted presence at the publishers with only strangers being caught unawares. "Why didn't you warn me," an author visiting his editor for the first time said after she strolled into the office.

Like so many Americans encountering Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by chance he found himself speechless in her presence.

She is friendly and hardworking, according to staff members, answering her phone in a breathy voice of "Hello, this is Jacqueline Onassis."

The only people she will not talk to are agents and journalists seeking to have her tell her own story.

To maintain her privacy, she insists that cab companies never send the same driver twice. She went to court to keep one pesky photographer away from her. She went to court to prevent a look-alike from captializing on her image.

New York is a city housing many celebrities and Jacqueline Onassis appears to have found in it the same anonymous safety that Greta Garbo and Woody Allen have.

She will attend parties but decides only at the last minute whether to go making her attendance a matter of suspense.

She relaxes in 356 acre estate in a windswept part of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, hunts in a farm in New Jersey and prowls a 15-room Manhattan apartment.

She maintains regular and friendly contacts with the rest of the Kennedy clan including Sen. Edward Kennedy who served as a surrogate father for her children and those of his brother Robert.

As an editor at Doubleday she has slowly developed a speciality - celebrity books and edited Michael Jackson's recent memoir. The two even lunched together in Manhattan. But most of all, she remains close to her children.

A friend, author Doris Kearns Goodwin, remembers her saying once, "Being a mother is what I think has made me the person I am."