By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
So she kept her burgeoning interest in alternative beliefs mostly to herself. Her father "would have worried about what I was doing," explains Sheryl Sterrett. "We were a political family. I never wanted to...make any problems for him."
Following graduation from the Greenhill School in 1953, Sheryl left for the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied art before leaving to work in Houston as a model, exhibiting daily wear, evening wear, and swimsuits. "I was real popular then because I am real busty and that was in style--the Jayne Mansfield look."
In Houston, she met her first husband, who became the father of her only child, Shelley. The couple divorced after just four years. Sterrett took her daughter with her back to Dallas--and moved in with her parents.
Then three, Shelley would remain in her grandparents' home with her mother until the age of 19. As an adult, she would go to court to take her grandfather's name. "It was almost like being in fairy land when I was a little girl," she says. "Everything was so ethereal...I felt really loved by those three adults."
After Shelley moved out, her mother remained. During the mid-'70s, she met her second husband at a large Dallas public-relations firm, where she worked as a secretary to the president and where her father served as a consultant. Her second marriage lasted six years.
Sheryl Sterrett says she worshiped her father. "My daddy was my hero." He enjoyed "rattling cages," she adds. "What I saw was a man who was willing to say whatever he believed in, whether it got him in trouble or not."
Yet Sheryl Sterrett waited until her father's death before publicly pursuing what she considers her true vocation. "I was brought up in a time where women did not 'get out there'...It was so ingrained, so instilled in us that women were not to make waves...I don't remember any resentment and I don't remember feeling repressed."
Yet Hazel Sterrett, her own mother, was sufficiently embarrassed by Sheryl's calling that she told her friends her daughter was an artist. She went to her grave last May, at the age of 94, says Sheryl, without acknowledging what her youngest daughter did for a living.
Yet Sheryl insists she and her mother shared a close, loving relationship until the end.
That relationship was at issue in a bitter 10-month legal battle with her sister, Terry Adrion, over their mother's will. Adrion, 10 years older than Sheryl, has lived with her husband in Connecticut for more than 30 years. She declined to be interviewed for this story.
But Sheryl describes her relationship with her sister as "estranged" since early-childhood days. "We are totally, totally opposite. She is traditional, strait-laced, a member of the garden club." She and her husband "are pillars in the church."
The will Adrion contested named Sheryl as the primary beneficiary. "Mother wanted to make sure that I was taken care of and that Shelley was taken care of, " says Sterrett. "I am the one who took care of her."
Hazel Sterrett named Sheryl executrix, left Sheryl what money she had in the bank, and directed that the two daughters share equally in a lake lot in Grapevine and five lots in the East Texas town of Como. Sheryl was to get two-thirds interest in the "family farm"--157 acres of land in Sulphur Springs--and her older sister the remaining one-third. The family home in University Park is not included in Hazel Sterrett's estate because in February 1988, six months after signing her will, Hazel transferred the property to Sheryl, who has since sold it.
In court papers, Adrion argued that their mother was not competent when she signed her will on August 12, 1988, and remained incompetent when she signed a codicil to that will in 1990. Adrion asked the court to declare that her mother died intestate--without a valid will--and to split the estate equally between the two daughters.
In February, the two settled their dispute out of court. Sheryl agreed to give her sister 40 percent interest in the family farm, instead of the 33 percent the will specified.
Sheryl Sterrett's daughter, Shelley, now 37 and living in California, blames the fight on jealousy. "My mother was always there for Nonnie and Terry was not. My mother took care of Nonnie, visited her in the retirement home...took care of her bills. My mom was Nonnie's baby and so was I, and Terry just resented that."
Hazel Sterrett left what she had to Sheryl because she thought she'd need it, says Shelley. Her grandparents were old-fashioned. "They worried about my mother because she wasn't married. My aunt was, and they felt her husband would always take care of her."
Were he alive to see it, says Shelley, the lawsuit would have made Lew Sterrett "extremely upset."
Sheryl Sterrett is a light worker with a mission.
"It's assisting people in the ability to trust in their own wisdom," she says. "Everybody has inner wisdom."
Her role is "to get the message out that we are moving into another dimension," signaled by changes on earth, such as natural disasters and changes in government programs. She and those like her, Sterrett explains, can "help others go as peacefully as they can into this new dimension."