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Memphis Radio’s Sherri Sawyer dies

July 9, 2010

Memphis Radio powerhouse Sherri Sawyer died this week after a long battle with breast cancer. The following is a piece written about Sawyer by close friend and colleague Trena Street.

Her delicate frame belies the mighty strength of sweet spirit and fortitude she possesses. Sherri Sawyer’s got grit. Since 1992, she has pummeled down breast cancer five times, victoriously prevailed and missed little work through it all. Being ‘well’ means many things to many people. To this 56 year old lady it just might mean thriving while maintaining a shield of survival. “I don’t think of cancer as a death sentence,” she states. “I think of it as a lesson…a daily lesson I am learning.” She is truly a girl raised in the South. A lifelong Memphian, she earned a Bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss and has spent most of her professional career as a broadcast management executive in the bluff city area.

As Market Manager for Citadel Communications Corporation, she successfully manages a diverse staff of 80 full-time employees at radio stations, KIX106, KIM 98.9, WRBO and The MAX in the East Memphis headquarters. Spending most waking hours making sure she meets budgets and fulfills corporate responsibilities. Yet, every third week, she can be found, Blackberry in hand, at The West Clinic, hooked to a chemo drip. With conviction and acknowledgement of the disease, she recognizes “I won’t ever be cancer-free.” She concedes but never gives in. “With the grace of God, I was in remission from the original breast cancer diagnosis in 1992 until it reoccurred in 2005. There is great cause for celebration when it is in remission…and I do!”

Ever the steel magnolia, she underwent painful breast reconstruction surgery four times in 1992, while still most aptly managing three stations for Clear Channel Radio and raising daughter Collin and son, Breck. After accepting a VP position first with Clear Channel in Raleigh NC and later with Radio One in Richmond VA, she and husband, Skip, retired and relocated, leaving their beloved hometown for four years.

Sherri Sawyer is a highly respected giant in the broadcasting industry, even though Don Imus called her ‘the little general’. She has managed and worked with many well-known names in Memphis like Fred Cook and John Powell. Somehow she kept the Wake Up Crew with Tim, Bev, and Bad Dog in check from inception in 1988 until departure to NC in 2001 and earned the admiration of the late Isaac Hayes and Sam Phillips. Now, she is the person in charge of radio personalities, Young & Elder, Drake & Zeke and Tom Prestigiacomo and Memphis View with Henry Nelson and Dr. Susan Murrman.

The only child of the late James and Earl Leane Roberson, Sherri “was glad to be back in Memphis where I could help” when her Mother became ill with multiple myeloma. “It jus started happening all over again in 2005. The cancer was back, in my sinuses, prompting three months of chemo drips again. Then good news. No more chemo needed. Pet Scans, every 90 days, were clear until April 2007 when brain tumors showed up,” she recalled.

While this scenario might even get a cock-eyed optimist down, she dedicated herself to work and wellness while recovering from brain surgery. The tumors were gone, but some right-side loss of hearing and sight had occurred. “I’m not comfortable driving much now, so Skip is great taking me to and from work or meetings as needed, “she said.

Suzanne Owens, senior account executive with the radio stations speaks admiringly about ‘boss’ Sherri. “Through all of this, she still finds a way to encourage and motivate the staff. Sherri is such a nurturer and teacher and is so positive about her own life,” she said. “Sometimes I think things are too hard for me and then I think of Sherri and realize how ridiculous I am. Sherri is an inspiration. She is the real Survivor.”

January, 2008 brought a fourth discovery…breast cancer tumors in the liver. Again, she balanced work, travel and even YOGA classes between chemo drips through July. In her words she had reason to celebrate July as the Pet Scan showed the tumors were no longer active.” The thorax and clavicle area spots appeared this past October. With a shrug, and her green eyes glistening with determined emotion, she says, “I guess I’m just one of those people who will get drips forever. It’s my lesson. My lesson to learn, daily, and I love learning lessons. I’m alive. I’m a survivor. I plan on keeping it that say, so, I just grab my wig and go!”

Read the coverage in The Commercial Appeal here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 12:04 pm

    Sherri was my dear friend, and one of the people who enabled me to reach beyond the constraints of convention in my career in Radio and Advertising. With Sherri’s support, encouragement and friendship, and her constant affirmation of excellence in all aspects of her business dealings, I have been able to enjoy a career that I could never have dreamed of back when she hired me as Copywriter/Continuity Director at WZXR/WREC back in 1986. Among other things, Sherri engineered the transition of WZXR Z-103 to The Eagle 102.7 (Rock 103) back in May of 1986 , and encouraged me to take on every challenge that came my way, up to, and including, leaving Memphis for greater opportunities elsewhere, knowing that Memphis and home would always be welcoming should I return. While I never had the opportunity to work with Sherri on a day to day basis since then, I maintained my friendship with her over the years, and her optimism, professionalism and grace was alway the hallmark of our relationship. To those who love her and mourn her passing, I would offer this prayer: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. —Psalm 34:18 . God Bless Sherri and Skip and their Children…She will be sorely missed.

    John L. Barlett
    Palm Beach, FL

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