Disabled vet who popped question at Bush home, coming to Villages for Sept. 11 event

Tyler Jeffries
Tyler Jeffries proposes to Lauren Lilly as two former presidents watch.

Tyler Jeffries kneeled down, gazed into his fiancée’s eyes and was ready to pop the big question when he saw something bigger: two ex-Presidents of the United States sitting nearby.

This was hardly a modest proposal.

“It was kind of crazy,” said Jeffries, an Army veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan. He will be in The Villages on Friday, Sept. 11, for a golf fund-raiser and 9/11 remembrance dinner.

Last month, Jeffries, 26, was invited to visit the Bush family summer residence in Kennebunkport, Maine. Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush were there, along with former First Ladies Barbara Bush and Laura Bush.

Lauren Lilly and Tyler Jeffries
Lauren Lilly and Tyler Jeffries

Jeffries was there with other wounded veterans who were featured in the book “Unbreakable Bonds: The Mighty Moms and Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed.”

Lauren Lilly, Jeffries’ girlfriend, was also in the area.

So, Jeffries just happened to mention to the Bush crew that he was thinking of getting hitched and asking Lauren for her hand in marriage.

The Bushes, never ones to dally, told Jeffries to do it “now.”

When Presidents speak, prospective grooms listen.

Next thing you know, there was Lauren Lilly, the Bushes and Jeffries, kneeling with a ring asking Lauren for a yes or no to tie the knot.

She said yes – what else could she say?

To see a video of the proposal go to

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJCzzVLR3B0

‘I still can’t believe it,” Jeffries said this week. “I was nervous. I was focused on what I wanted to say. I had it on my mind but I couldn’t get it out.”

Eventually, all the words came out right, with a little help from the Bush family.  “They were so nice to me,” Jeffries said.  “We talked about it and they were really cool about everything.”

Jeffries will be in The Villages on Friday. The golf tournament and remembrance dinner are both sold out, said Bill MacKinnon, who organized the event, with some help from Villagers for Veterans.

Nearly 100 Villagers will be playing golf at the Truman and Roosevelt Courses. Another 144 tickets are sold for the dinner, to be held at 5 p.m. in the Manatee Recreation Center, MacKinnon said.

Speakers will include Jeffries and  Marie Bogdonoff  of Villages for Veterans.

 “It’s going be a great event,” MacKinnon added. “We are taking donations at the door and hoping to raise $5,000 for Tyler.”

Life has been a challenge for Jeffries, who was critically wounded in October of 2012. He was on patrol when he stepped on an IED. He nearly died, but, after 30 surgeries and countless hours in rehabilitation, is about to embark on a new chapter of his life with marriage and, hopefully, college in the future.

Still, the pain and loss sometimes lingers.

“My whole life has changed and will never be the same,” Jeffries said. “I hate being in a wheelchair.”

Does he ever ask why me?

Tyler Jeffries in Afghanistan.
Tyler Jeffries in Afghanistan.

“That goes through your mind,” said Jeffries, who has a way of overcoming obstacles. “But you can’t feel sorry for yourself or change the past. I’m thankful to be alive and I have hope for the future. Everything happens for a reason.”

Jeffries, who grew up near Tampa and now lives in North Carolina, was a three-sport athlete in high school. At 5-9, 185 pounds, he played football and basketball, but baseball was his best sport. He hoped for a possible professional career as a pitcher until an arm injury stopped him.

Then he joined the Army. And his grit, determination and courage remain intact. In addition to marriage, Jeffries recently received more good news. He will have custody of his 5-year old daughter, Ella.”

“I just took her to her first day of kindergarten,” Jeffries said. “It was fantastic; she loves school.

Jeffries has been to The Villages once before, for a fund-raiser for other veterans.

“It’s a great place with great people who really care about veterans,” he said. “I’m not much of a golfer, but I might try to hit a few drives.”

Jeffries and his bride-to-be, recently set their wedding date: April 16, 2016.  “We can’t wait,” he said.

And there will be a couple of special names on the guest list.

“Both Presidents told me to put them on the list,” Jeffries said. “They said they can’t promise they’ll be there, but they want to be invited.”

Don’t be surprised if they show up. When it comes to Tyler Jeffries, anything is possible.