By Sutherland Staff
Published on November 10, 2017

Speech given by Sheri Dew at Sutherland Institute’s 2017 annual gala on November 3, 2017.

This is amazing. I hardly recognize the person he just introduced. I told him, when he called about this, I couldn’t think of a single reason that I would be singled out for some kind of recognition this evening, and I feel a little bit sheepish about being here. But I thank Boyd and the Swims and others for their generosity and their kindness.

The one thing I can say is that I care about this country. I love this country. I always have. I think the hand of God has been on it from the beginning, and I feel that we who have the privilege of living here are absolutely the caretakers of its moral fabric and its character.

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And so that leads me to think about an experience I had with a nephew a number of years ago. This nephew is now in his late 20s and a father – a husband and father – but this happened when he was about 7. I’ve got 17 nieces and nephews and they all learned – from the time they learned to say prayers, they learned to constantly pray that their Aunt Sheri could find a good husband. This was drilled into them from day one.

One morning my brother called me to tell me what his son had said as he had offered a prayer on the food, on the breakfast. He said Trevor – again, age 7 – said, “Please bless Aunt Sheri to find a good husband who doesn’t smoke, drink, say bad words, or litter.” Go figure. Who knows where that came from. I’m not making this up. This was a direct quote, and as I think about my nephew, I think: Well, that was actually pretty profound. Think about the concept of litter. It’s not just garbage – it’s garbage that has been left rudely behind that somebody else has to clean up.

So I guess that yes, should the Lord allow me to find a husband at some point. I hope he doesn’t litter. And I’m not just talking about the gum that sometimes gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

I think that America – as Boyd was saying a few minutes ago – America still shows profound signs of goodness and therefore greatness. We see it all the time. Think about what we’ve seen in just recent months, as there have been ravaging hurricanes and that tragic shooting in Las Vegas and just the terrorist attack on bicyclers, of all things, in New York City just a few days ago, and we see the outpouring of compassion and service and kindness and generosity – and it’s remarkable. So you see the fabric of so many people in this country.

But we also see from time to time that there are some signs that our collective morality and our collective character is beginning to unravel just a little bit. And the reality is our country can’t be any stronger than the people who make up the country. So the question for each of us, I think, is what kind of trail are we leaving behind us?

Now, that question leads me to think of two episodes from our history in this country, and one of them will be really familiar to you and one of them probably not so much. The first that I cite this evening is the Donner Party.

The Donner Party had a tragic, tragic ending – one of the most tragic of all the things that happened in the Western migration in this country. If, when they left Fort Bridger, they had continued on the Oregon Trail to Fort Hall in Idaho and then taken a southwest pass into California, they would have been just fine.

But at Fort Bridger they ran into a promoter by the name of Lansford W. Hastings. Hastings convinced them that there was a shorter way if they would break off from Fort Bridger, head south and cross the Wasatch Mountains – now this is a year before the pioneers who settled this valley had come to this valley – and he convinced them it was shorter, it would be faster, and they believed him.

He was promoting this because he was a member of a group in the California territory that wanted to make California a republic. And so his interest was in getting as many settlers as fast as possible to California. That was his goal. So he sends the Donner Party off. And what he hadn’t realized is that they would have to blaze a trail through the Wasatch and then across the desert – the Great Salt Lake desert – and all of that, on an unproven, uncharted course, took them a month longer than it should have taken. So when they got to the Sierra Nevadas it was late in the season.

A day or two before they were to summit the last summit in the Sierras and head down into California, an early snowstorm – a big snowstorm – trapped them and they were marooned for the winter. You know the story. Over half died that winter and some other really grisly tragic things happened. All because they listened to a promoter who was less interested in the well-being probably of that particular company than in his goal of getting a lot of settlers to California.

Now contrast that with another story that you may not be as familiar with. Many in this audience are familiar with President Russell M. Nelson, the president of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before President Nelson was called to full time church service, he was known around the world as Dr. Nelson – literally a world-famous heart surgeon. He taught some of the first heart surgeons in China and in a number of other countries around the world. Graduated from the University of Utah Medical School in 1947, first in his class. And when he was in medical school – think about the irony – he was taught that anyone who would touch the human heart would be totally discredited as a physician.

He heads off then for his residency at the University of Minnesota, and his scholastic record propelled him to be invited to join the very first team creating the very first heart-lung machine in the world. It was that team – and he wasn’t on it – but it was members of that team who actually performed, or attempted, the first open-heart surgery. He happened to have been, at that point, fulfilling a military obligation during the Korean War and was going from MASH unit to MASH unit in Korea. So he wasn’t actually in the operating room with the very first one.

But he came home, finished his schooling, he performed the very first open heart surgery in the state of Utah and was one of the very first in this country – performed the first one here in 1955 and became truly one of the very earliest pioneers in cardiac surgery.

I had the privilege a couple of years ago of being at an event up at the U. where they honored him upon the 60th anniversary of that first open-heart surgery, and the the head of cardiac surgery from the Mayo Clinic was there to honor his hero, Dr. Nelson, and this is what he said: He said today open-heart surgery is pretty matter-of-fact. But for Dr. Nelson, every time he opened the chest he was venturing into the unknown. Countless individuals owe their lives to him and a handful of other surgeons like him.

Now, to my point, in those early days of heart surgery, a lot of people died. There were only a few – relative few – surgeons attempting such a thing as open-heart surgery. They would get together as often as they could in medical meetings and in other ways to talk about what they were learning. He said they shared information – what hadn’t worked, what hadn’t solved problems, what was starting to solve problems, discoveries they were they were beginning to uncover – sharing priceless information.

And after I heard him recount this, I had a chance to ask him, “So are you telling me that you weren’t worried about sharing this privileged information? You weren’t worried about who would get the first patent or who would get credit for pioneering a new procedure?” And his response was instantaneous. He said, “Oh no!” He said, “Our competition wasn’t with each other. Our competition was with death, disease and ignorance. That’s what we were fighting.”

I think that’s a profound example – a profound example to each of us. The contrast between Lansford W. Hastings, who was so eager to get settlers into California – perhaps not being as concerned about their well-being – and a handful of early open-heart surgeons who only wanted to save their patients. That contrast is staggering.

Imagine if today in our country, our common enemy was not each other. Our common enemy was not that we don’t see everything the same way. What if our common enemy was tyranny and terrorism and perhaps anything that assaults the human spirit. Imagine if there weren’t a constant, almost feverish scramble for headlines, or soundbites, or the most pithy social media posts, or some kind of self-promotion. Imagine if what we really cared about most of all was building lives and saving lives. There are a lot of ways to save lives.

My prayer this evening, and my hope, is that we’ll each consider, ponder, think about the trail we’re all leaving behind us – because you can only build a society one person at a time. In this selfie world, may we leave a trail focused on building lives, because that is exactly what it will take to preserve the very best of the United States of America. Thank you.

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