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Navy veteran, grandson of 10th US president John Tyler who took office in 1841, has died at 95

The U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) conducted a wreath-laying ceremony Mar. 29 to commemorate the birthday of 10th U.S. President John Tyler at the president's gravesite, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Va. U.S. Army Combined Arms Supp... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)
October 11, 2020

A grandson of 10th U.S. president John Tyler, who left office 175 years ago, died at age 95 last month, a historical anomaly of a family whose three generations span three centuries from the nascent United States to 2020.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., of Franklin, Tennessee, died Sept. 26, according to an online obituary. His daughter, Susan Selina Pope Tyler, told the New York Times he died of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Tyler was born Jan. 3, 1925, more than 130 years after his grandfather John Tyler was born March 29, 1790.

Though Tyler never met his grandfather, who died in 1862, he shared stories passed down through his family.

“My great grandmother, the president’s mother, said that when (John Tyler) was a year old, he reached up to the sky toward a full moon. She would say, ‘I think that boy is going to be president of the United States. He’s reaching for the sky,'” Tyler told a crowd in Williamson County in 2010, according to the Williamson Herald.

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After growing up in Charles City County, Virginia, outside Richmond, Tyler enrolled in the College of William and Mary when he was 16 years old, his obituary says. His father, the son of the president, served as the college’s 17th president from 1888 until 1919.

His time at the school was interrupted, however, by World War II, and Tyler served as a naval officer in the Pacific, his obituary says. He returned and completed his degree in 1947 then later earned a law degree from University of Virginia.

In the 1960s, Tyler was an assistant director on the Virginia Civil War Centennial Commission, “hoping to unite the country rather than further divide it,” his obituary says.

Tyler then pursued a career in history and teaching, earning a doctorate in history from Duke and later teaching at the Virginia Military Institute then The Citadel in South Carolina.

His grandfather, John Tyler, served as U.S. president from 1841 to 1845 after William Henry Harrison died just weeks into his term as the ninth U.S. president.

Tyler had been added to the Whig Party ticket to sway Southern voters as a slave owner, according to the White House Historical Association.

His presidency faced criticism and controversy, however. Tyler vetoed bills his party and predecessor approved, including the creation of a central bank.

His contemporaries referred to him as “His Accidency,” a jeer in reference to him taking over shortly after Harrison’s inauguration and being the first vice president to assume office after a president’s death.

He also faced impeachment attempts. Those introducing impeachment accused Tyler of “the high crime and misdemeanor of endeavoring to excite a disorganizing and revolutionary spirit in the country,” Smithsonian Magazine notes

After leaving office, Tyler retreated to his Virginia plantation, according to the White House Historical Association. He reentered public life before the outbreak of the Civil War when he served at the Peace Conference of 1861 but rejected the proposals. He was also elected to office in the Confederacy but died in January 1862.

A father of 15, John Tyler had children in two marriages as his first wife, Letitia, died while he was in office. His second wife, Julia, was the mother of the College of William and Mary president, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., although active in legal and historical studies, did not share the political ambitions of his grandfather. He said at the 2010 event: “Being a presidential descendent, even as a small boy, I didn’t want to hear anymore about it,” per the Williamson Herald.

He added that he was once asked by a woman, “‘Little boy are you going to be president when you grow up?’ ‘No. I’ll bite your head off,’ I said. Then she asked me, ‘What would you do with the bones?’ and I told her, ‘I’ll spit ’em out.'”

Tyler is survived by his daughter and brother, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, also in his 90s, President John Tyler’s last living grandchild.

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