Idanell Brill: born Austin, Texas 24 February 1919; married 1940 John Connally (died 1993; two sons, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Austin 1 September 2006.
Among famous last words, the nine uttered by Nellie Connally on 22 November 22 1963 must rank among history's most poignant. "Mr President," she said, "you can't say Dallas doesn't love you." Moments later, as the motorcade slowly made its way through Dealey Plaza, shots rang out, mortally wounding John Kennedy, and seriously wounding her own husband John Connally, the Governor of Texas.
Nellie was the last survivor among the four dignitaries in the presidential limousine, sitting in the second row of seats, behind the driver but in front of the Kennedys. Her memory was of three shots fired in quick succession, of which the second struck both the President and the Governor. As John Connally slumped in his seat alongside her with a gaping bullet wound in his chest, his wife pulled him tightly to her, helping staunch the loss of blood. Almost certainly, her reaction helped save his life.
"I never looked behind me again," Nellie Connally would later say, "I was just trying to take care of him [John]." Like him, she never subscribed to the elaborate "second gunman" conspiracies that grew up after the assassination. Just as the official Warren Commission concluded, as it pinned the blame solely on Lee Harvey Oswald, she believed that only three shots were fired, all from the same direction.
Her husband recovered to serve out his term as Governor. But the years thereafter were often difficult. In 1971, her husband became Richard Nixon's Treasury Secretary. Always a conservative Democrat, he formalised the easy switch to the Republicans in 1972 and eight years later made a short-lived and embarrassingly unsuccessful bid for his new party's presidential nomination. Then a string of failed business deals forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1986, with debts of $93m, and assets of just $13m. Nellie Connally underwent the humiliation of watching as the couple's assets were sold off, in a public auction that turned into a media sensation.
But she bore these tribulations nobly, and unfailingly stood by her husband. He died in 1993, but she continued to be active as a fund-raiser, in particular for research into breast cancer (she herself had a mastectomy in 1988) and into diabetes.
Above all else, however, her name is linked to the day in Dallas for ever seared into the world's memory. On the 40th anniversary of the assassination, in 2003, Connally published a personal account, From Love Field: our final hours with President John F. Kennedy. Her abiding recollection of those moments, she told an interviewer, was "of yellow roses and red roses and blood all over the car . . . all over us".
She would never forget it, she added. "It was so quick and so short, so potent."
Rupert CornwellReuse content