John Connally, spirit of Texas, is dead at 76 Pulmonary illness kills ex-governor

June 16, 1993|By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

John Connally, the three-time Texas governor who survived the gunfire that killed President Kennedy in 1963, died yesterday in a Houston hospital from lung problems. He was 76.

Doctors said Mr. Connally succumbed to complications of pulmonary fibrosis at Methodist Hospital, where he had been critically ill since May 17.

The former governor and one-time presidential candidate will be buried tomorrow at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. His body will lie in state in the Capitol before the services.

"More than any other person of my generation, John Connally was the quintessential Texan," said former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth.

"He came to symbolize all the forceful and attractive elements associated with the Texas character: gallant, self-confident and decisive, daring, almost swashbuckling. John Connally dominated an entire era of Texas political leadership in a way done by no other in modern times, save Lyndon Johnson. You could disagree with him if you'd wish, but you darn well had to admire him and respect him."

As governor from 1963 to 1969, Mr. Connally's legacy was his firm support for higher education. In the decades before and after his time in the Governor's Mansion, Mr. Connally also left an indelible mark on the national political scene -- both as a Democrat and as a Republican.

He was one of Lyndon B. Johnson's most trusted advisers, running Mr. Johnson's successful but scandal-tinged 1948 campaign for the U.S. Senate. He served two presidents, a Republican and a Democrat; ran his own abortive presidential campaign in 1980; was accused of bribery and cleared in a trial; and declared bankruptcy in the 1980s only to rebound and show up as a model for dress shirts and as a bank spokesman.

Mr. Connally had his political and financial ups and downs, but he continually resurfaced to present his views, whether it was urging approval of school reforms in 1984 or criticizing U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, this year.

Although his accomplishments as a businessman and politician fill volumes, Mr. Connally may be best remembered as the other person shot Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, when Mr. Kennedy was assassinated. Mr. Connally was critically wounded in the back, wrist and thigh, apparently by Mr. Kennedy's assassin. Although the Warren Commission declared that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman, Mr. Connally over the years insisted that

gunfire had come from two directions in Dealey Plaza.

The wounds from the assassination attempt mostly healed, but Mr. Connally had unrelated lung problems that menaced him over the years. Doctors had been treating him in recent weeks for a lung infection and pneumonia.

His wife, Nellie Connally, issued a statement thanking those who had rallied to his bedside.

"We deeply thank all of those whose thoughts and prayers have been with us throughout this ordeal. It was those thoughts and prayers that gave John the best possible chance to recover. We will always be grateful for your kindness," she said.

Gov. Ann Richards described Mr. Connally's demise as both a personal and public loss: "Texas lost one of its favorite sons . . . I lost a real good friend."

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