By Betsy Rothstein - 11/08/05 12:00 AM EST
McCall Cameron, press secretary for Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), was musing with a female friend one day at Taverna — The Greek Islands about the elusive man of her dreams.
He would be a young Sam Johnson, with a quick wit, a close family, a strong faith and a good character. He would be attractive, of course.
Oh, and while we’re at it, added the 32-year-old, vivacious blonde, “Make him an American hero.”
A tall order, maybe. But there is no harm in dreaming, especially if you’ve watched four office colleagues marry in the past 18 months, you’ve been involved in nine weddings and you’re dating not Mr. Right but a string of Mr. Right Nows.
In April, shortly after the Taverna conversation, a friend on the West Coast began trying to set her up with Tyson McAllister Avery, 31, a captain in the U.S. Marines who was based at Camp Pendleton, in California. The pair exchanged a few e-mails that ended with, “When you’re in California let’s get together.”
Come August, Cameron took off on the yearly “Cameron Family Vacation” in La Jolla, Calif. As fate would have it, Avery had just returned from Iraq, where he had won a Bronze Star and spent eight and half months as a military lawyer guiding commanders in the law of war and the Geneva Conventions.
He and Cameron had seen photographs of each other, but neither expected that much would come of a lunch date at a snack shack on the beach.
After seeing his photograph, Cameron was taken aback. “I said, ‘Oh, he’s too good-looking for me.’” But when Avery saw hers, his reaction was, “She’s hot! How come I haven’t met this woman?”
They met on the first day of the family’s weeklong vacation, dressed in flip-flops and beachwear. In unison, Cameron and Avery say, “We just clicked.” And they spent almost the entire time together, which included meeting the family two dates in. “Hmmm, let’s see if he’ll sink or swim,” Cameron recalled thinking.
And Tyson’s thought was, “I was just crazy attracted to her, [and I thought] if I could handle the parents and sisters, then they would be OK and supportive of a long-distance relationship.”
Before Cameron returned to Washington, Avery invited her to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in November. “I thought it was very sweet,” she says, “but far-fetched and unrealistic.”
But he was serious. Two weeks later, Avery was in Washington to visit. Three months later, Cameron was at the ball, where he first told her he loved her.
At the time, the relationship was battling distance, but they phoned every day, kept in touch by e-mail and handwritten letters, and agreed that within six months they would be in the same time zone.
True to his word, in December Avery requested a transfer to Washington to work at the Pentagon. “It was fun to woo McCall,” he says. To which she responds, “Hey, what girl doesn’t want to be wooed, especially by a man in uniform?”
Avery’s no-games mentality allowed him to move quickly: “I wouldn’t say I knew immediately, but I was pretty reckless. Probably by January, five months into it, I knew for certain.”
Cameron had strong feelings for Avery but was cautious. “I wasn’t going to believe it until he was here,” she recalls. “The guy’s 3,000 miles away. He could have ended up getting sent to Okinawa. I just really wanted to be thoughtful.”
In February 2005 the couple attended the Black Tie & Boots inaugural party, where Cameron revealed her true feelings in a burst of comical honesty. When Avery mentioned buying her a Stetson hat for Valentine’s Day, she semijokingly snapped, “I don’t want a Stetson. I want an engagement ring!”
On Aug. 19, everything came full circle for the couple when Avery paid a surprise visit to Cameron on her yearly family vacation in La Jolla. Avery lay in wait in the garden near the swan pond of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club — the site where they had first kissed a year before.
Cameron, meanwhile, had no idea what was happening. She was dressed for a day at the beach in a bikini, a cover-up and sunglasses, she recalls, and her father was escorting her to the gardens. After she got over the shock of Avery’s being there, the Marine began. “I told her everything I felt about her,” he says, remembering the stunning princess-cut diamond ring in his back pocket. “I had kind of practiced it.”
Cameron’s response comprised 500 yeses, five minutes of tears and tackling him to the ground.
Timing is pivotal to the couple’s story. Cameron and Avery should have met six years ago at a mutual friend’s wedding, but she could not attend. Sitting in Johnson’s private office to tell their story, they both laugh, insisting it’s a good thing they didn’t meet then because neither would have been ready.
“I just wasn’t ready to make a commitment with someone like McCall,” says Avery, who was 24 at the time and just out of Officer Training School.
Cameron agrees: “I was just young. I wouldn’t have dated me at 24.”
The couple are to marry May 27 in San Marino, Calif.