Sheri Dew, CEO of Deseret Book Co. and prominent member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke to Mormon women in Houston over the weekend. She presented three separate addresses, the largest being Saturday morning which was broadcast to thousands of women in 23 LDS Churches in the metro area.
Though not an official Mormon Church spokesperson, Dew has extensive experience in the church and is an articulate and powerful woman leader. Being a single woman who has never married, in a church that is admittedly very family oriented, adds an additional dimension to her message to women. Cheryl Driggs who attended the Saturday meeting said “We respect her because of her work as a leader in the Church but we pay attention to what she says because of her insightful wisdom. She speaks the truth.”
The recent death of a loved one and a personal heart attack scare forced Dew to refocus on essentials. Dew quoted Cicero, saying, “I think I’m much more interested in the long hereafter than in the brief present.”
According to Dew, the first step in focus is acquiring knowledge. “It’s really short sighted not to learn everything you can,” she said as she related how her lack of knowledge caused a flight fiasco on a trip she took to Africa during her 5 year stint as one of three women presiding over The Relief Society. The society, the LDS church’s women’s organization, is currently made up of 6 million women in over 170 countries and purportedly the largest and oldest organization for women in the world.
Dew cautioned women to be aware of clever pundits. “You can find someone very articulated on any topic giving every point of view under the sun. That is not the way to find out what is true.”
When asked what her hope is for all women, Dew replied, “I would hope that they increasingly gain confidence about who they are…and feel confident in speaking the truth when truth needs to be spoken. We as women need to know what we believe…so that we are not swayed. You measure what someone says by butting it up against the truth.”
“Women do not understand their influence. They don’t think they have it,” Dew continued. As she has met with women in 50-60 countries and in culture after culture her observation has been the same. “It’s astonishing to see the far reaching, never-ending reach of women. From the home to the community to the extended family to the church to wherever they put their hands, women have a very distinctive touch.”
Referring to one’s focus on what is really important as the way to work through difficulties, Dew, a Kansas native and avid sports fan, spoke of her farm-girl beginnings, being painfully shy, and bout of depression that troubled her in her early thirties.
“Challenges along the way are harder than we thought they would be. Welcome to mortality,” she quipped. Dew recalled crying for a month when selected as president of Deseret Book Company. Though a skilled writer, she had no business management experience. “I had never read a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement,” she said. Dew also spoke of her social reticence. “There (have been) practical things along the way that helped me learn how to interact. But I still deal with shyness all the time.”
In speaking of suffering a deep depression, Dew referred to a November, 2013 speech by Jeffery R. Holland, an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Citing several well-known figures who dealt with depression such as Lincoln and Churchill, he said, “There should be no more shame in acknowledging (mental or emotional disorders) than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.” Helpful keys included having compassion with each other, watching for stress indicators in yourself and others, slowing down, resting up, replenishing and refilling, and seeking the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills and good values.
At the close of the weekend, Janet Westwood, Stake Relief Society President for the Houston North Stake of the Church, remarked that all the responses heard from women were that expectations were exceeded. “We were excited to host this event and were so pleased that so many women in our area were able to be strengthened and unified by the messages and beautiful music. We hope that all women will realize that despite the business and distractions of life, we must focus on that which is most important,” she concluded.
Linda Talbot contributed to this story.