`Grateful beyond expression for gift of testimony'

Without doubt, Sheri L. Dew will accomplish many things in life, but she may always be known as "the biographer."

Author of the biographies of President Ezra Taft Benson and President Gordon B. Hinckley, Sister Dew was sustained April 5 as second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. When the Church News called for an interview, the affable 43-year-old writer who had doggedly probed and pried into just about every facet of the lives of two prophets found that she didn't like the fit of the proverbial shoe that now is "on the other foot."While she grew up in what is probably the closest embodiment of an idyllic existence on Kansas farmland her grandparents homesteaded, she experienced the usual woes and traumas of childhood and adolescence. She spoke forthrightly about being a shy LDS girl who wasn't included among the popular, entirely non-LDS "in crowd" at school in Ulysses, Kan.

In addition to feeling left out socially, she reached her present height while still in the sixth grade. "Believe me, 5-foot-10 is not a popular height for a sixth-grade girl," she said. "I was never as petite as the other girls; and I never felt cute. I always secretly wished I was one of the darling girls leading cheers courtside. Instead, I had to be satisfied with the fact that I had a dandy hook shot of my own."

Sister Dew admitted that her life has not played out at all like she thought it would. "I can't say that I've gotten everything I've asked for, because I haven't. But the Lord has never let me down, and that's a great comfort. He has never steered me wrong. He has never left me alone, and, surely, He won't now."

That's not to say she hasn't had her disappointments.

"I grew up in a traditional LDS home," she said. "My father was the breadwinner. My mother has always been at home and has been totally devoted to her family. I had never seen a girl in all of west Kansas go to BYU and not get married. By the time I had graduated from college and completed the course requirements for my master's degree, I started looking around and thinking, `What comes next?' "

What was next was a job, something she had never anticipated but which eventually led to a successful career as vice president of publishing for Deseret Book Co. "Marriage hasn't come, despite the fact that my nieces and nephews pray every day for `Aunt Sheri to find a good husband.' "

Sister Dew, through the years, learned how to retain the desires of her heart without obsessing on them. An experience she had while in college was a turning point. "I was in graduate school at BYU and had a disappointing and discouraging social experience, so one day in February I packed up my books and drove home to Kansas, in the middle of the semester," she said. "I stayed only a few days. I have two brothers and two sisters. My youngest brother was about 12 then; I was 22. One day, I plopped down on his bed and spied his journal. On a whim, I succumbed to a little big-sister snooping. It was a scream to read what a 12-year-old boy was writing about girls and motorcycles and the like. Then I came to the page that he had written the day I had shown up unexpectedly from BYU. He had written, `Sheri came home from BYU today. I'm really excited to see her. But I can tell something is wrong, because she's not very happy. I wish there was something I could do for her because I really love her.'

"I sat on his bed and just started to weep. And then into my mind came one of the clearest impressions I've ever had. The thought was, Why don't you quit worrying about what you don't have, because you've got plenty. You just need to figure out what you can do with what you have.' It was a crossroads moment for me. I can't say that I popped up and said,Fabulous! Everything is fine, and I feel happy about everything in my life.' But from that point I slowly began to see myself differently and to essentially say, `Why don't you quit worrying about the fact that you're 5-foot-10, and all your friends are getting married and leaving you behind? Whatever you are is fine. But you ought to do a little more with what you've got, because what you've got is enough.' "

Countless others have been blessed because of this turning point in her own life. Sister Dew's influence is, perhaps, as widely felt as is any woman's in the Church today, primarily through her writings. A passage from the preface to President Hinckley's biography, Go Forward with Faith, reveals the very heart, soul and character of the new counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. She wrote:

"I have enjoyed the blessing of a testimony of the gospel for as long as I can remember. Through the years the whisperings of the Spirit have been sweet and sustaining. Though I have known something of disappointment, loneliness, and challenge, I have never borne the burden of disbelief, and I am grateful beyond expression for the gift of testimony. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet. . . . I have received confirmation that the work he helped restore is that of the Master.

"Never, though, have I had more gratitude for modern-day prophets than I have felt since the day . . . when an early-morning phone call brought the shocking news that my younger brother had died suddenly of a heart attack. It had never crossed my mind that my time with my vigorous, presumably healthy, 35-year-old brother would be so short. I had assumed we would grow old together, enjoying the banter, camaraderie, and mutual respect that characterized our relationship. But it was not to be.

"My brother's passing has left an indescribable void. That's the difficult part. But it has also caused me to think deeply about the faith I have embraced my entire life, for during the quiet moments of yearning that follow such experiences you find out what you really believe - and those beliefs either anchor or betray you. . . .

"One of my first thoughts after Steve's passing was how enormously grateful I was for the Prophet Joseph Smith, through whom was restored the gospel with its full understanding of our Heavenly Father's plan. How grateful I am to know that life has purpose, that it does not end with the grave, and that sacred ordinances have been restored that reach beyond this sphere and bind families together forever."


Sheri L. Dew

Family: Born Nov. 21, 1953, in Ulysses, Kan., the eldest child of Charles and JoAnn Petersen Dew. Siblings: Steve (deceased), wife, Sandra; Cindy (Jim) Pennington; Michelle (Michael) Baer; Bradly (Lisa) Dew.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree from BYU, 1977; attended graduate school at BYU, 1977-78.

Employment: Vice president of publishing, Deseret Book Co., since 1994; previously director of publishing and associate editor, Deseret Book Co.; editor and associate publisher, This People, magazine; assistant editor, Bookcraft.

Church service: Member of Relief Society general board, 1989-90; Sandy Utah East Stake Relief Society president, 1991-96; counselor in Sandy Utah East Stake Relief Society presidency, 1986-89; (Salt Lake) Millcreek 10th Ward Relief Society president, 1979-82.

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