Sheryl Ann Montgomery
Sheryl Ann Montgomery, was born July 4, 1945, a truly fitting and prophetic day for the independent “firecracker” and inspiration she would become as a student, teacher, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, spouse and friend, in a way which can only be described as “Sher”, as she is called by all her 5 grandsons.
She was born in Chico, CA, to Margaret and Ralph Watkins, where she was raised and attended school, graduating at the top of her high school class of some 400 students. She attended Chico State University for her Freshman and Sophomore years, and as a brilliant student, transferred to and in 1967, graduated from, UC Berkeley, Magna Cum Laude (with majors in History and English), which she attended without family financial help, while working full time as a waitress at a popular local fish restaurant.
While at UC Berkeley, she reconnected with an old 7th grade flame (they went “steady”), Frederick (“Rick”) Montgomery, when she needed a ride from their nearby hometowns back to Berkeley, which he provided on his way back to Stanford. They almost immediately commenced dating, their first date to the Sound of Music –and the Music continued 54 years. They married in 1968 on a week’s notice so that Rick’s mother, who had terminal cancer, would be able to attend the wedding. At the time of their marriage, Rick was a first year law student at UC Hastings and Sherri as a natural born teacher, obtained her Elementary School teaching credential in order to support them. This was at great personal sacrifice to her desire to become a history professor at Berkeley. Sherri taught kindergarten in the Bay Area and then Santa Barbara for some 30+ years.
Sherri, as most called her, moved to Santa Barbara in 1970, where Rick had been recruited as a fledgling litigator out of law school by the prestigious law firm of Schramm, Raddue & Seed. As a Berkely student of the 60’s, she initially hated it, saying that she had been dragged to “polyester hell”. That, however, soon changed, especially after they started their family.
While Rick worked to build his legal career, Sherri was the driving force of “family”. She had one biological son, Heath, but later was unable to conceive for medical reasons. Undaunted, she was determined to build more family. Over nearly insurmountable legal obstacles she single handedly accomplished (sitting, day-after-day in the US Ambassador’s office in Los Angeles until he finally succumbed and gave her a personal “audience”) the first California adoption from El Salvador of their daughter Pilar, and then proceeded with an adoption of their last child, Brent. Despite having an outward, fun loving, life-living persona, Sherri was the driven, focused, intelligent, thoughtful matriarch of the family. Sherri believed that curiosity and imagination were vital to her children’s (and their children’s) growth. Education was paramount and each night she relentlessly supervised the completion of each child’s homework. Coming from the Berkeley 60’s she was also determined that there would be no time for their getting into trouble, and what time was left after education, was filled with sports. She earned the nickname “Sergeant Sherri” in the traveling junior tennis world in which Heath and Pilar participated, but this didn’t stop her from starting a rotating bridge group with other mothers on the tours while still making sure travel plans were confirmed, warm-ups were secured, and water jugs were filled. Yet, every match win or lose, she would make sure her kids felt unconditional love and support. To her, and at her core, the principle and mantra was family must come first and remain close. It was woven into the fabric of her children’s psyches, as well as the many of the needle points, weavings, knitted blankets, paintings and poems she wrote throughout her life. After her kids left home for college and on, while giving them their adult space, she always provided a safe place for their return when advice and wisdom were needed. When asked by people how she did it, her reply was, “accept their friends, accept their music, and pay for everything”.
She traveled the world, both independently and with Rick, with experiences, adventures, and stories to share which would rival novels — like the time she traveled to Nepal alone, the military took over the government and just as the country was being shut down for months for travel in or out, she bribed her way on to the last flight out composed of fleeing politicians, but peppered with civilians in the hope of preventing the military from shooting down the plane. She and Rick experienced life with and through other cultures and peoples, but these cultures and people also gained by experiencing her.
Sherri was also actively involved in the art culture in Santa Barbara. For decades she sold her art at local shows and during countless holiday events around town. When the 4th of July art show at the Mission shut down, she organized and hosted the event at her home, for more than 10 years, so that local artists, residents and visitors could continue to enjoy that traditional cultural experience. She believed in giving back to the community. Over her 50+ years in Santa Barbara, she volunteered at the Braille Institute to teach needlepoint and knitting, the Senior Center, Junior League, Transition House, and helped in local political campaigns.
She seamlessly transitioned from parent to grandparent, and, in this new chapter, she continued to blossom. Always wanting to spend time with her grandsons (5), almost never saying no to a request or chance to see them, tutoring them every week and inspiring their imaginations and enthusiasm for learning (and keeping them on their toes as she had “eyes” tattooed on the back of her head so she could always see them). All of the boys couldn’t wait to tell Sher about their next big accomplishment, and she made it seem as if it was the best thing they had done.
Sherri was a force of nature when it came to her ability to positively affect and influence those around her. She was the life of the party. She was the inspiration for being better. No one ever forgot her after meeting. She was funny, quick witted, insightful, sensitive, voraciously well read, and inquisitive. Upon meeting, she instantly sized you up and often pushed you to the point where you would ask yourself, “why didn’t I think of that? — try that before?” She focused on the best in people and helped them live to that potential. She was not afraid to speak her mind, but rarely offended. If you had a chance to hear her give a speech, it was always riffing off the top of her head, but incredibly funny, insightful, and personal — for days, it would become the topic of conversation as those present would repeat her quips and punch lines. She was a strong believer in learning history for its life’s lessons, often noting one of her favorite Churchill sayings — “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” She repeated to her children and their children that they’d be the force for the change they wanted to see in life. Her combination of wit, curiosity, love, generosity, devotion, and kindness was unique. Those who met and knew Sherri got to see them all. While she would tell you not to mourn her passing, secretly she would want you to at least miss her presence for a bit, but celebrate her by continuing to live life as fully as possible. The world may have lost this unique wife, mom, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend, but we will continue to honor all her wisdom, teachings, and spirit which came to life on that fitting July 4th day celebrating independence. To this we say, we love you Sher, for all you are and thank you for all you have given us and which will continue to inspire us through your memory.
The family is holding a Celebration of Sherri’s Life on Saturday, May 21, 2022, from 4:00 P.M to 10:00 P.M. at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 E. De La Guerra St., S.B., Cal. 93101, and all who would like to share in her memory are welcome.