By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Ho'opuka E-ka-la Ma Ka-hikina. Ho'opuka E-ka-la Ma Kahikina.
On the second floor of an old Oak Lawn house, a primal chant resonated through a room where 35 women and men sat in a circle of chairs. Incense filled the air, and several candles on a corner table flickered in the dim light.
After the last powerful notes of the Hawaiian Huna chant spilled forth from Sheryl Sterrett, the room was still.
The 59-year-old former model and one-time secretary, wearing blue jeans and a denim shirt embroidered with small colorful birds, encouraged those gathered around her to breath deeply --and to surrender only to their higher selves.
A small man with dark wavy hair closed his eyes. He sucked in air through his nose and then, rounding his lips into a puffy o-shape, exhaled an elongated swiiiiiish of air. Eyelids still shut, he repeated his personal breath mantra. Almost everyone in the room was doing the same.
Sterrett stood in the middle of the circle, her eyes scanning the room, her head nodding approval. "All of you are here as 'light workers,'" she advised the New Age congregants; her job, she explained, was simply to help them along their journey.
This was her mantle of leadership, a leadership running deep in her blood--if in a vastly different realm.
A tall woman with reddish-brown hair and rust-tinted eye glasses, Sheryl Lew Sterrett is one of Dallas' foremost New Age "guides." She is also the daughter of a staunchly conservative, rigidly Baptist Dallas political icon: Lew Sterrett, the man for whom the county's jail complex is named.
The late Walter Lewis Sterrett served 53 years in Dallas county government--more than half of those as county judge. And he was decidedly Old Age. Nick-named the "Little Judge," Sterrett became a legend as a feisty cigar-chewing politician. When he died in 1981, he was regarded as one of Texas' most enduring political powers.
His daughter Sheryl now enjoys her own recognition as a leader in the metaphysical realm of religious practitioners, both locally and across the nation. For more than a decade, she has earned a living as a healer, a "light worker," a psychic therapist, a "conscious channeler," and a palm reader.
Twice a year, she visits Hawaii, where, with "the masters," she studies the ancient mystical religion of Huna, based on positive thinking. And if, on a full moon or a new moon, you pay a visit to a cozy retail shop in Richardson or Fort Worth, you can participate in an evening meditation ceremony led by this New Age guide.
It's hard to imagine a less likely life for Lew Sterrett's daughter. He was, after all, a man who scorned the notion of women's liberation--and a staunch believer in traditional faith.
The clash of attitudes took its toll. Sheryl suppressed her New Age beliefs until her father died. Her mother told friends her daughter was an artist. And Sheryl's sister, who lives in Connecticut, sued her in probate court, claiming Sheryl improperly induced their aging mother to give Sheryl the lion's share of her estate.
Sheryl Sterrett calls herself a visionary and a "Christian mystic." A minister of her family church, Park Cities Baptist, calls her a tool of Satan--and her work the dance of the devil.
She is unperturbed by such references, saying, "It kind of goes with the territory." The words and actions of visionaries, she says, always threaten adherents of the status quo--whether in the realm of religious belief, or in the equally murky world of 1950s Dallas County politics.
The summer sun was roasting the city of Dallas at noon on August 11, 1951. And Dallas County Judge Lew Sterrett was about to find out how much his political style could heat things up.
Sterrett stepped into the office of County Commissioner John Rowland, who was in the company of his 260-pound son, District Attorney Investigator John A. Rowland.
According to the following day's Dallas Morning News, commissioner Rowland and the cigar-chewing Little Judge "had political differences over the administration of the county's road and bridge system." Those "differences" quickly came to fisticuffs. Behind closed--and locked--doors, the Rowlands pummeled the county judge.
When Judge Sterrett emerged from the office he was "bleeding profusely from a cut on his nose and a deep gash over his right eye." The newspaper reported that a "preliminary examination indicated that Sterrett may have suffered a broken nose, a fracture over his eye and a fractured rib." As he waited to be taken to the hospital, Sterrett commented to the quickly gathering crowd of reporters: "I've been trying to tell you boys that it's rough out there on that court."
Like his daughter, Sterrett probably would have argued that he was in the middle of a fight between good and evil. When he took office in 1949 the courthouse was rife with corruption and cronyism. Newspaper editorials anguished over election fraud and gambling, which reportedly took place in the back rooms of saloons and bars while officials turned a blind eye. Sterrett, a five-term justice of the peace, had pledged that, as county judge, he would root out the forces of evil lurking in the back rooms and corridors of the county courthouse.