Sheri Dew: Living the unexpected life

'Unmarried' leader is almost a celebrity among LDS

Published: Sunday, March 10 2002 12:00 a.m. MST

Sheri Dew talks on her cell phone on her way to her LDS Church office. She is the second counselor in the LDS Relief Society general presidency.

Peter Chudleigh, Deseret News

Sheri L. Dew is the CEO of a publishing company, one of the leaders of a worldwide church and the author of several books, but that's not how many people identify her.

"Oh, you're the unmarried one," perfect strangers will blurt out upon meeting her.

The unmarried general officer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dew might be better known more for what she doesn't have — a husband — than by what she does have — a dual career, brains, surpassing talent as a pianist, writer and speaker (and, umm, Game Boy player). This is a woman who has accomplished great things while waiting for love to come along, but she is still famous for her marital status, largely because she helps lead a church that is centered on marriage and family.

Dew is everywhere confronted with her singleness, whether in the family-lined pews of the chapel on Sunday and the constant emphasis on the family unit, or with questions from the curious.

"How come you're not married?" she is often asked.

"Because no one asked," she likes to say, using her deft humor, as she often does, to deflect painful or awkward moments.

The questions have even turned ignorant and mean:

How can you call yourself an LDS woman and not be married?

She always wanted and expected to be married, to raise children, to stay at home; she never meant to become a career woman, no apologies to feminists (who must be cringing). As she says, "There isn't anyone who wants to see me married more than I do."

But here she is, at 48, the newly named CEO of Deseret Book, the second counselor in the LDS Church's Relief Society presidency — the first unmarried woman ever to become a general officer in the church (there's that unmarried thing again) — and the author of four books. Never did she imagine such a career, nor that she would live her life alone. Dew's best friend, Wendy Watson, a professor at Brigham Young University who is also single, calls it "living the unexpected life."

It has become part of her appeal.

Sheri Dew, the Kansas farm girl, stands out in the LDS Church, and not just because she is 5-foot-10. She receives thousands of letters from church members and is approached on the street by her, well, fans. The LDS Church understandably shies from celebrity Mormonism, but there is no denying Dew's popularity.

"There is no question about it," says Sharon Larson, second counselor in the LDS Church's Young Women general presidency and another of Dew's close friends. "I have traveled with her to Africa, Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, and truly everywhere we've gone people just come up to her. They tell her, 'You speak to my soul. You are so real.' And she is. She has her own following, independent of her calling."

Dew, whose appeal is such that the Republican Party tried to convince her to run for political office this fall, is a beacon for Mormons who are living the unexpected life, the life that didn't turn out as they had planned and hoped, the life that was prescribed for them by their church.

As Julie Dockstader Heaps, a staff writer for the LDS Church News, puts it, "She doesn't have the 'Molly Mormon' life story where everything is choreographed — get married, raise kids, husband becomes stake president by 35. She's a very real person and people can relate to her. Because most people out there aren't living that kind of life."

She has become a favorite speaker in LDS circles because of her vulnerability, honesty, hard-won wisdom and willingness to share so much of her life at the pulpit. "She has gotten so much mileage out of bad hair, her height, her weight," says Watson. "She's not afraid to poke fun at herself. That's classic Dew."

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