Born February 27, 1917, in Floresville, Texas, John Connally rose to political prominence as the campaign manager for Lyndon B. Johnson, then as governor of Texas. On November 22, 1963, Connally was wounded when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Connally also worked with President Richard Nixon, and later later switched political parties. He died on June 15, 1993, in Houston, Texas.
Early Life and Military Service
John Bowden Connally Jr. was born on February 27, 1917, in Floresville, Texas. One of eight children, John Connally came from modest means. His father, John Bowden Connally, worked as a cowboy and grocer before turning to farming to support his family.
For much of his childhood, Connally lived in Harlandale, just outside of San Antonio, Texas. He earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas. There, he became interested in politics as well as public speaking, and was elected president of the UT Student Association. His time in school also introduced Connally to Idanell (Nellie) Brill, whom he married in 1940. The couple would go on to have four children together.
During World War II, Connally leveraged his background as an attorney to earn a job as a legal assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal. Later, he was assigned to North Africa and worked on the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower during the planning for the Allied invasion of Italy. Connally was awarded a Bronze Star for his wartime service.
From Campaign Worker to Governor
Military work did nothing to dampen Connally's interest in politics. Upon returning to Texas, he joined Lyndon B. Johnson's congressional campaign staff. It was the start of a long and fruitful—and sometimes tumultuous—partnership between the two Texans. In 1948, Connally managed Johnson's successful election campaign for the U.S. Senate.
During the 1960 presidential primaries, Connally again fought on Johnson's side, and soon targeted a dashing young senator from Massachusetts: John F. Kennedy. Unafraid of mudslinging, Connally helped make it known that Kennedy had a health condition, Addison's disease, that could leave him dead without proper medication. (The charge was true, but was denied by the Kennedy camp.)
Despite the bad blood between the two campaigns, Connally worked to elect Kennedy after Johnson joined the ticket. In return, the new president tapped Connally to be Secretary of the Navy in 1961. The post gave Connally national stature and helped pave the way for him to land in the governor's seat in Texas in 1962.
On November 22, 1963, Connally was sitting in the jump seat of Kennedy's open-topped limo as the president visited Dallas. When shots were fired, Connally was hit by a bullet that passed through Kennedy. The governor was wounded on his back, chest, wrist and thigh, and drifted in and out of consciousness for days. He finally became alert as he watched television coverage of Kennedy's funeral.
For a time, Connally was convinced that Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had intended to kill him instead. The reason, he said, was that Oswald had once petitioned Connally, when he was Secretary of the Navy, to upgrade his discharge from the Marines. Connally had never responded to the request.
Connally served as governor of Texas until 1969. He then practiced law before going to work for President Richard Nixon, first on the president's Foreign-Intelligence Advisory Board, and later as Secretary of the Treasury. Connally officially became a member of the Republican Party in 1973.
The last two decades of Connally's life were a bit of a roller coaster. In 1974, he was indicted for accepting a $10,000 bribe (he was acquitted of the charges). A few years later, he spent a considerable amount of money in an attempt to secure the Republican presidential nomination, but lost to Ronald Reagan. Connally was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1988 after falling $93 million into debt as a result of poor real estate and oil investments.
At age 76, Connally died on June 15, 1993, at the Methodist Hospital of Houston, Texas. His death was the result of complications from the pulmonary fibrosis that his bullet wound had left him with. He was survived by his three remaining children—his eldest child, Kathleen, had died in 1958 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound—and his wife, Nellie.
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