A footnote to history died yesterday. Nellie Connally passed away at age eighty-seven in Austin, Texas. An author, she was the widow of former Texas governor, Secretary of the Treasury and Navy, and one time presidential candidate, John Connally. A cancer survivor and involved in charitable causes, Mrs. Connally was recognized a number of years ago when Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center named a section of the hospital in her honor. In spite of those accomplishments, Nellie Connally will primarily be remembered for one instant. She was a passenger in the limousine when President Kennedy was assassinated and spoke the last words JFK likely heard: "Mr. President, you certainly can't say that Dallas doesn't love you!" Her husband was shot concurrently, surviving after a lengthy recovery. The country is still mesmerized by the scene of Jackie Kennedy crawling over the trunk of the Lincoln Continental, helping the secret service agent into the automobile in a futile attempt to save her fatally wounded husband. Nellie Connally was the final survivor of that horribly bleak moment in American history.
Today was my Sunday to preach for our Chinese congregation. My topic was another historical character whose defining moment came while going down the road, although in a chariot instead of a limo; the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8. The unnamed official of an African government listened to Philip the evangelist speak of the risen Savior, culminating in his baptism into Jesus Christ. The direction of the life of Paul was likewise altered as he walked down the road to Damascus, leading the former persecutor of the church to become its greatest spreader of the faith. The existence of Simon of Cyrene took on greater meaning after he was coerced into carrying the cross of the Messiah down the road from metro Jerusalem to the place nicknamed The Skull. Mark's Gospel account of the crucifixion lists Simon's sons, indicating they were well known to the church and lending credence to the possibility that the father of Alexander and Rufus was also a Christian. The common denominator in each of these three believers' stories was that events on middle eastern thoroughfares rerouted their destinations. These revisions without a doubt led to eternal detours for others who came into their sphere of influence. For Nellie Connally, those seconds on Elm Street in Dallas, captured on Abraham Zapruder's hand-held movie camera, would haunt her until her final breath yesterday. But for a eunuch, a converted Christian terrorizer, and an involuntary cross bearer, the road became a pathway to a new and eternally rewarding life.
"I've never known a woman with Nellie's courage, compassion, and character. For all her ups and downs, I've never heard a self-pitying word from her."
Barbara Walters on the life of Nellie Connally
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