AUSTIN, Texas – Nellie Connally, the former Texas first lady who was riding in President Kennedy's limousine when he was assassinated, has died, a family friend said Saturday. The 87-year-old was the last living person who had been part of that fateful Dallas drive.
Connally, the widow of former Gov. John Connally, died late Friday at an Austin assisted living center, 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. 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."
In 2003, she published a photo-filled book — "From Love Field: Our Final Hours with President John F. Kennedy" — based on 22 pages of handwritten notes she compiled about a week after the assassination and rediscovered in 1996.
Texas Gov. 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," Perry said in a statement.
Connally, formerly Nellie Brill, met her husband at the University of Texas in Austin, and they married on Dec. 21, 1940.
John Connally managed several political campaigns for fellow Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, including his 1964 presidential campaign. Connally was elected Texas governor as a Democrat in 1962 and won re-election twice, serving three two-year terms. He died in 1993.
"I've never known a woman with Nellie's courage, compassion and character," Walters said. "For all her ups and downs, I've never heard a self-pitying word from her."
John and Nellie Connally suffered financial difficulties after he left office. Private business ventures after 1980 were less successful than John Connally's career as a politician and dealmaking Houston lawyer. An oil company in which he invested got into trouble, and $200 million worth of real estate projects went sour, and he ended up filing for bankruptcy.
Nellie Connally served on the Board of Visitors of The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center since 1984, and a fund in her name raised millions for research and patient programs. The Houston hospital's center for breast cancer also is named for Connally, a survivor of the disease for more than 15 years.
About a year ago, Connally moved back to Austin after decades in Houston and remained active until her death.
"She has been extremely active and vital the past few days and weeks," Read said. "It's a shock to all of us."
Survivors include her daughter, Sharon Connally Ammann, and two sons, John B. Connally III and Mark Connally.
Funeral services are pending. She is to be buried near her late husband in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.