Franklin resident Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., a World War II veteran, lawyer, historian, author and educator, died on Sept. 26 at Williamson Medical Center from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 95.
Mr. Tyler, a man of deep faith, was a grandson of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States.
Mr. Tyler was born on Jan. 3, 1925, in Richmond, Virginia, to Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr. and Susan Ruffin Tyler, and was raised in Charles City County, Virginia. A 1941 graduate of St. Christopher’s High School, Mr. Tyler was 16 when he entered The College of William & Mary, where his father had served as the 17th president from 1888 to 1919 and his grandfather had attended and shared a room with Thomas Jefferson.
Mr. Tyler’s education was cut short when World War II broke out. He joined the Navy and served as an officer in the Pacific theater. At the end of the war, he continued his service in the Navy Reserves, in naval intelligence, and rose to the rank of commander.
His daughter Susan Selina Pope Tyler said that when Mr. Tyler returned from the war, he realized the need to have a Christ-centered life.
In a note read by the Rev. David Wilson during Tuesday’s memorial service at St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Nashville, she wrote, “Lyon was a holy man. He was truly an amazing follower of Jesus. He changed his life and the lives of many others.”
Mr. Tyler returned to William & Mary, graduated in 1947 and went on to the University of Virginia, where he earned a law degree in 1949. He clerked for a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals and practiced law in Richmond and in Charles City. In the 1950s, he served as the commonwealth attorney for Charles City County.
Mr. Tyler married Lucy Jane Pope in 1958. Together, they took part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They did more than march, they lived it. Mr. Tyler arranged for a Black man to serve on the school board, Susan Tyler related.
“They worked to improve the lives of minorities in our county in Virginia,” she wrote. “They were the most admirable people I know. They always believed in making the world better.”
In 1960, Mr. Tyler became associate director of the Virginia Civil War Centennial Commission as a way to unite the country, which he thought had been divided too long. While planning programs for the 100th celebration, his interest in history grew. He enrolled in Duke University, where he earned a master’s degree in history in 1965 and a doctorate in 1967.
Mr. Tyler started his first teaching assignment in 1967 at Virginia Military Institute and redesigned the school’s museum. Between 1973 and 1990, he was a history professor at the University of Richmond and at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Tyler created a Gospel businessman’s fellowship for cadets and saw many become Christians.
“He brought many cadets home for dinner,” Susan wrote. “He mentored men in the community who were experiencing tough times. He was kind and loving to everyone, even the marginalized and less acceptable.”
Mr. Tyler may have been a grandson of the 10th president of the United States, but he never capitalized on it. He was proud of his grandfather, but he worked hard to change the family legacy from that of slave owners to civil rights advocates.
As a child, Mr. Tyler and his younger brother, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, heard so many stories about their grandfather, who was the first vice president to become president (just a month after the inauguration), that they got tiring.
“Being a presidential descendant, even as a small boy, I didn’t want to hear any more about it,” he told a library group, as reported in the Williamson Herald.
He did like to relate a popular story about his response to a woman who asked about his grandfather and whether the youngster would follow in his footsteps and be president when he grew up.
An emphatic “no” was followed by “I’ll bite your head off.”
The woman queried what he would do with the bones and young Tyler said. “I’ll spit ’em out.”
John Tyler became president when William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia just 31 days after he was sworn in.
John Tyler may not have had a momentous term of service, but as a promoter of state’s rights, the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution, he was honest, had integrity and stuck to his values and beliefs — traits he passed along to his descendants.
He was originally a Democrat but, disillusioned by a bank scam during the Jackson administration, he left the party to become a Whig, the forerunner of the Republican party. President Tyler’s claim to fame was admitting Texas into the union as a territory.
After the death of his first wife, which occurred during his first year as president in 1841, President Tyler married Julia Gardiner, a women 30 years his junior. She bore Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr. when the former president was 63.
President Tyler had 15 children between two wives and died in 1862 at the age of 72.
Lyon Tyler Sr. also remarried after his first wife died. He was 71 when Lyon Jr. was born and 73 when son Harrison was born. Another son died a few months after he was born. Lyon Tyler Sr. died in 1935 at the age of 82. He had six children between two wives.
Mr. Tyler and Lucy Tyler moved to the Pope family farm in Franklin in August 2000. Lucy died six months later, on Feb 13, 2001.
Mr. Tyler did not follow the family tradition of marrying younger women and adding to the family late in life. He continued to visit area schools and speak with the students. He spoke about his family lineage and provided a civics lesson at the Williamson County Library in 2010. He volunteered with local youth groups and went on mission trips to places such as Honduras and China while well into his 80s.
“He witnessed many miracles and brought back stories about them,” Susan wrote. “He was always praying for the sick. I’ve had many share with me how my father affected their lives, through his advice or his practical help.”
During his retirement, Mr. Tyler continued his Bible group studies, his work with community organizations, church functions and personal Bible reading.
“When he developed Alzheimer’s, he forgot the past but not the Lord’s Prayer,” Susan added. “I was so blessed to have had him for my father and my friend.”
In addition to his daughter and brother, Mr. Tyler is survived by niece Julie Gardiner Tyler Samaniego of Rancho Santa Fe, California, nephew Harrison Ruffin (Cathy) Tyler Jr. of Alexandria, Virginia, nephew William Booknight (Kay) Tyler of Richmond, Virginia, and eight great-nieces and great-nephews.
Funeral service and interment were on Oct. 3 at Westover Episcopal Church in Charles City, Virginia. A memorial service was held at St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Nashville on Oct 13.
Memorial contributions may be made to Christ for All Nations, PO Box 590588, Orlando, Florida, 32859-0588 or via cfan.org/donate.