Nellie Connally

Nellie Connally

Idanell (Nellie) Brill, the oldest of five children, was born in Austin, Texas, on 24th February, 1919. Her father was a leather merchant who made holsters that were used by law officers, including the Texas Rangers.

Nellie attended the University of Texas where she met John Connally in 1938. The couple married in December, 1940 and over the next few years had four children. A member of the Democratic Party, Connally helped run the political campaigns of Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1948 he was accused of being involved in a voting scandal when 200 votes for Johnson arrived late from Jim Wells County. It was these votes that gave Johnson an eighty-seven-vote victory.

John Connally also ran a radio station in Austin and also worked as legal counsel to oilman Sid Richardson (1951-59). When John F. Kennedy was elected president he appointed Connally as Secretary of the Navy. He held the post until being elected Governor of Texas in January, 1963.

On 22nd November, 1963, President Kennedy arrived in Dallas. It was decided that Kennedy and his party, including his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Governor John Connally and Senator Ralph Yarborough, would travel in a procession of cars through the business district of Dallas. A pilot car and several motorcycles rode ahead of the presidential limousine. As well as Kennedy the limousine included John Connally, his wife Nellie Connally, Roy Kellerman, head of the Secret Service at the White House and the driver, William Greer. The next car carried eight Secret Service Agents. This was followed by a car containing Johnson and Yarborough.

At about 12.30 p.m. the presidential limousine entered Elm Street. Soon afterwards shots rang out. John F. Kennedy was hit by bullets that hit him in the head and the left shoulder. Another bullet hit John Connally in the back. Ten seconds after the first shots had been fired the president's car accelerated off at high speed towards Parkland Memorial Hospital. Both men were carried into separate emergency rooms. Connally had wounds to his back, chest, wrist and thigh. Kennedy's injuries were far more serious. He had a massive wound to the head and at 1 p.m. he was declared dead.

Nellie Connally, who was sitting next to her husband in the presidential limousine, always maintained that two bullets struck John F. Kennedy and a third hit her husband. "The first sound, the first shot, I heard, and turned and looked right into the President's face. He was clutching his throat, and just slumped down. He Just had a - a look of nothingness on his face. He-he didn't say anything. But that was the first shot. The second shot, that hit John - well, of course, I could see him covered with - with blood, and his - his reaction to a second shot. The third shot, even though I didn't see the President, I felt the matter all over me, and I could see it all over the car."

John Connally agreed with his wife: "Beyond any question, and I'll never change my opinion, the first bullet did not hit me. The second bullet did hit me. The third bullet did not hit me." As the Warren Commission concluded there also was a bullet that missed the car entirely. Some conspiracy theorists argue that if three bullets struck the men, as the Connallys insisted, and a fourth missed, then there must have been a second gunman because no one person could have fired four rounds from Oswald's bolt-action rifle so quickly.

John Connally made a full recovery and was reelected in 1964 and 1966 when he obtained 72% of the vote. During his period of office he was associated with increased spending on education and the library system. He is also credited with developing Texas as a tourist destination. Connally, who was a right-wing member of the Democratic Party, was involved in a long-term dispute with the more left-wing Ralph Yarborough.

After leaving office Connally worked for the law firm of Vinson and Elkins in Houston. He left the Democratic Party and became a member of the Republican Party. He worked closely with President Richard Nixon and in 1971 was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. When Spiro Agnew was forced to resign Connally was expected to be appointed as Vice President. However, eventually the post went to Gerald Ford.

John Connally went into business but his reputation was badly damaged when he became involved in a milk-price bribery scandal. In 1975 Connally accused by Jake Jacobsen of taking bribes while working as Secretary of the Treasury. He was defended by Edward Bennett Williams, who managed to prevent the jury from hearing a recording of a conversation that took place between Connally and Richard Nixon in March 1971. On the tape Connally says to Nixon:"It's on my honor to make sure that there's a very substantial amount of oil in Texas that will be at your discretion," the treasury secretary said. "Fine," said Nixon. "This is a cold political deal," Nixon continued. "They're very tough political operators." "And they've got it," Connally said. "They've got it," Nixon agreed. "Mr. President," Connally concluded, "I really think you made the right decision."

Connally was not found guilty. He later said that: "To be accused of taking a goddamned $10,000 bribe offended me beyond all reason." According to Evan Thomas (The Man to See: Edward Bennett Williams): "Among cynics in the firm, there was a sneaking suspicion that Connally's indignation stemmed from the fact that he had been indicted for taking such a small payoff. The joke around the firm was that if the bribe had been $200,000, Williams would have believed the government, since, in Texas politics, $10,000 was a mere tip."

John Connally ran for president in 1980 but was defeated for the nomination. Connally was convinced his involvement in the Watergate Scandal was to blame for this poor result and decided to retire from politics.

Doug Thompson later revealed that in 1982 he asked John Connally if he was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the gun that killed John F. Kennedy. "Absolutely not," Connally said. "I do not, for one second, believe the conclusions of the Warren Commission." Thompson asked why he had not spoken out about this. Connally replied: "Because I love this country and we needed closure at the time. I will never speak out publicly about what I believe."

In the 1980s Connally started his own real estate company. He did very well at first but at the end of the decade he was forced to declare bankruptcy and held a highly publicized auction of his belongings.

Nellie Connally raised money for many charities. She had served on the M. D. Anderson Board of Visitors since 1984, and a fund in her name raised millions of dollars for research and patient programs.

In 1988, Nellie Connally had a mastectomy after doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. However, she made a full recovery.

John Connally died of pulmonary fibrosis on 15th June, 1993, at the Methodist Hospital of Houston.

In 2003, she published a book, From Love Field: Our Final Hours with President John F Kennedy, based on notes she compiled about a week after the assassination and rediscovered in 1996.

Idanell (Nellie) Brill Connally died on 1st September, 2006.

Primary Sources

(1) The Warren Commission Report (September, 1964)

Governor Connally testified that he recognized the first noise as a rifle shot and the thought immediately crossed his mind that it was an assassination attempt. From his position in the right jump seat immediately in front of the President, he instinctively turned to his right because the shot appeared to come from over his right shoulder. Unable to see the President as he turned to the right, the Governor started to look back over his left shoulder, but he never completed the turn because he felt something strike him in the back. In his testimony before the Commission, Governor Connally was certain that he was hit by the second shot, which he stated he did not hear.

Mrs. Connally, too, heard a frightening noise from her right. Looking over her right shoulder, she saw that the President had both hands at his neck but she observed no blood and heard nothing. She watched as he slumped down with an empty expression on his face. Roy Kellerman, in the right front seat of the limousine, heard a report like a firecracker pop. Turning to his right in the direction of the noise, Kellerman heard the President say "My God, I am hit," and saw both of the President's hands move up toward his neck. As he told the driver, "Let's get out of here; we are hit," Kellerman grabbed his microphone and radioed ahead to the lead car, "We are hit. Get us to the hospital immediately."

The driver, William Greer, heard a noise which he took to be a backfire from one of the motorcycles flanking the Presidential car. When he heard the same noise again, Greer glanced over his shoulder and saw Governor Connally fall. At the-sound of the second shot he realized that something was wrong, and he pressed down on the accelerator as Kellerman said, "Get out of here fast." As he issued his instructions to Greer and to the lead car, Kellerman heard a "flurry of shots" Within 5 seconds of the first noise. According to Kellerman, Mrs. Kennedy then cried out: "What are they doing to you!" Looking back from the front seat, Kellerman saw Governor Connally in his wife's lap and Special Agent Clinton J. Hill lying across the trunk of the car.

Mrs. Connally heard a second shot fired and pulled her husband down into her lap. Observing his blood-covered chest as he was pulled into his wife's lap, Governor Connally believed himself mortally wounded. He cried out, "Oh, no, no, no. My God, they are going to kill us all." At first Mrs. Connally thought that her husband had been killed, but then she noticed an almost imperceptible movement and knew that he was still alive. She said, "It's all right. Be still." The Governor was lying with his head on his wife's lap when he heard a shot hit the President.At that point, both Governor and Mrs. Connally observed brain tissue splattered over the interior of the car. According to Governor and Mrs. Connally, it was after this shot that Kellerman issued his emergency instructions and the car accelerated.

(2) The Houston Chronicle (15th November, 1998)

Nellie Connally, the last surviving passenger of the car in which President Kennedy was assassinated, is reasserting her belief that the Warren Commission was wrong about one bullet striking both JFK and her husband, former Governor John Connally.

"I will fight anybody that argues with me about those three shots," she told Newsweek magazine in its Nov. 23 issue. "I do know what happened in that car. Fight me if you want to."

The Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that one bullet passed through Kennedy's body and wounded Connally, and that a second bullet struck Kennedy's head, killing him. It concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

The Connallys maintained that two bullets struck the president in Dealey Plaza 35 years ago and a third hit the governor. John Connally died in 1993 at age 75.

The Warren Commission concluded there also was a bullet that missed the car entirely. Some conspiracy theorists argue that if three bullets struck the men, as the Connallys insisted, and a fourth missed, then there must have been a second gunman because no one person could have fired four rounds from Oswald's bolt-action rifle so quickly.

Mrs. Connally says in Newsweek that personal notes she wrote a few weeks after the assassination reaffirm her belief of the number of shots.

Mrs. Connally wrote that after hearing the first shot, John Connally turned to his right to look back at Kennedy "and then wheeled to the left to get another look at the President. He could not, so he realized the President had been shot."

Then, she wrote, John Connally "was hit himself by the second shot and said, `My God, they are going to kill us all!'"

According to her notes, that was followed by the third shot that passed through Kennedy's head.

She wrote: "With John in my arms and still trying to stay down ... I felt something falling all over me. ... My eyes saw bloody matter in tiny bits all over the car. Mrs. Kennedy was saying, 'Jack! Jack! They have killed my husband! I have his brains in my hand.' "

(3) Michael Granberry interviewed Nellie Connally for the Dallas Morning News (22nd November, 2003)

"It kept going through my mind like a phonograph record playing over and over and over. But for John, it was even worse. His first night home, he cried out in his sleep. I would just pat him on the shoulder, and he'd go back to sleep. Ten days after, I asked him, 'What is it you dream, dear?' And he said, 'Nellie, somebody's always after me. With a gun.' So I just let him cry out. He did that for a month or six weeks and they were always after him."

Her own waking nightmare "has us all in the car. Everyone's having a wonderful time. Everyone's being so good, and then all of a sudden the horror starts. There is never anything good after that happening in that car. The car is filled with yellow roses, red roses and blood. And pieces of the president's brain."

Connally regrets that President Kennedy's legacy - and, by extension, the nation's - could have been so much brighter in the years ahead. "We were all in our 40s," she says of the passengers in the top car of VIP's. "We all had so much to give."

But Dealey Plaza would come to dictate an entirely different reality.

"For the first time in my life, I feared for my family," she said. "And I never had before. Mark, our youngest, was 11 at the time. There was this wall at the governor's mansion (in Austin) that he loved to walk around. Well, he could no longer walk around that wall. We were afraid somebody would snatch him off of it. Sharon, 14 at the time, could no longer go anywhere without someone going with her. It became, in some ways, a difficult life for us, and for me. And even to this day, I still take a glance behind me, just to make sure."

Governor Connally, who survived his wounds, went on to serve as Treasury secretary in the Nixon administration and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1980. He died in 1993.

Mrs. Connally, who lives in Houston, says Nov. 22 will always be a part of her. "I push it to the back of my head. I can bring it out any time I want, but I know it's not constructive. It was such a sad day. We all wanted to be there to begin with, but if you'd been in that car, believe me, you would never ever want to be there again."

(4) Los Angeles Times (3rd September, 2006)

Nellie B. Connally, the former first lady of Texas who was riding in the limousine carrying President Kennedy when he was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, has died. She was 87.

Connally died Friday night at an assisted-living facility in Austin, Texas, said Julian Read, a longtime friend of the Connally family.

Read expressed surprise at Connally's death, noting that she had "been extremely active and vital the last few days and weeks."

Nellie Connally was the last living person from the car on that darkly historic day more than 42 years ago when Lee Harvey Oswald opened fire from the Texas School Book Depository as the presidential motorcade made its way through the streets of Dallas...

She had aspirations to be an actress when she went off to the University of Texas in the late 1930s. She was named "Sweetheart of the University" in 1938, and it was there that she spotted Connally.

"I recognized a tall, good-looking brunet coming. That was it. I just knew," she told reporters years later.

John Connally went to work as a congressional aide to Lyndon Johnson in Washington after graduation. Nellie and John Connally married in 1940 and had four children.

His political career rose over the years. He managed political campaigns for Johnson, including his 1964 presidential run, and held high-ranking posts, including secretary of the Navy as well as Texas governor. There was talk of the presidency for Connally, but missteps along the way cost him support.

A longtime Democrat, Connally alienated the party faithful by serving as Treasury secretary for President Nixon. After leaving the Treasury post, he headed an effort to garner Democratic support for Nixon. He eventually switched parties, but his later efforts to get the GOP presidential nomination failed.

Nellie Connally rode the crest of the waves with him and felt them crashing beneath her when times were bad.

Their first child, Kathleen, killed herself in 1958 at age 17.

In 1988, Nellie Connally had a mastectomy after doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer.

The next year, her husband, who once held the purse strings for the United States and had amassed considerable wealth in the private sector, was forced to declare bankruptcy after a series of business dealings went bad. He had debts of $93 million and assets of $13 million.

(5) Kelly Shannon, The Guardian (4th September, 2006)

Nellie Connally, the former Texas first lady who was riding in John F Kennedy's limousine when he was assassinated, has died. The 87-year-old was the last living person who had been in the car.

Connally, the widow of former Governor John Connally, died late on Friday of natural causes at her home in Austin, said Julian Read, who served as the governor's press secretary in the 1960s.

As the limousine carrying the Connallys and the Kennedys wound its way through the friendly crowd in downtown Dallas, Nellie Connally turned to President Kennedy, who was in a seat behind her, and said, "Mr President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you".

Almost immediately, she heard the first of what she later concluded were three gunshots in quick succession. A wounded John Connally slumped after the second shot, and, "I never looked back again - I was just trying to take care of him", she said.

She later said the most enduring image of that day was the bloodstained roses. "It's the image of yellow roses and red roses and blood all over the car ... all over us," she said in a 2003 interview with the Associated Press. "I'll never forget it ... It was so quick and so short, so potent."

Texas Governor Rick Perry called Connally "the epitome of graciousness".

"Long before she was propelled into the national spotlight from the assassination of President John F Kennedy, she was a Texas icon," he said.

Connally, formerly Nellie Brill, met her husband at the University of Texas in Austin, and they married in 1940. She moved back to Austin about a year ago after decades in Houston.