Sheryl Lynn (Hopkins) Brunson, age 61, passed away on May 8, 2020, at Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband Don at her side after a courageous, years’ long battle with a number of worsening medical conditions.
Sheryl was born on August 8, 1958 in Killeen, Texas, beginning her life as an “Army brat”. After a time in Fort Worth, her family moved to Waco, Texas in August, 1962, where Sheryl attended elementary school, later claiming those were the best schools she ever attended. She also took ballet lessons, developing a lifelong love for dancing. In 1968 her father took a job on the Apollo moon project and the family moved to Nassau Bay, Texas, near the Johnson Space Center south of Houston. There Sheryl attended Clear Creek schools in Webster and League City, Texas. She was an outstanding student while also being quite active in nearly every organization she could join and on the go every waking moment. During this time she had a wide variety of summer jobs, working for a summer as an engineering intern developing offshore algorithms at Gulf Oil, for two years as a tour guide at the Johnson Space Center, and Sheryl even spent one summer as an engineering roustabout for Amoco at the Hasting Field in Pearland, working out in the oilfield with the other field hands and learning to tolerate chickory coffee! At the end of the summer the Field Foreman said Sheryl was the best of the summer group. Prior to her senior year, in June 1975 Sheryl was honored by selection to attend the American Legion Girl’s State program in Seguin, and subsequently returned for several more years to serve as a guidance counselor for attendees.
Sheryl graduated from Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas in May 1976 as valedictorian of her class of approximately 1600 students. She was further distinguished by winning the Alan G. Weber award as the most outstanding senior at not only her school, but in the entire Clear Lake school district. Typical of Sheryl’s modesty and humility, she never once mentioned receiving this award to Don. She and Don had a running joke over who was smarter, since he was valedictorian of a rural school senior class of 22 students – this was never a contest!
Sheryl then attended Rice University in Houston, alma mater of both of her parents and an uncle, where she through a great deal of hard work she attained Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Masters in Mechanical Engineering degrees. Sheryl and Bob became Rice’s first father / daughter Mechanical engineering graduates. She lived in the co-ed dorm of Baker College, and was blessed with wonderful roommates who became lifelong friends.
Upon graduation, Sheryl was hired in June 1986 by Donald W. Goodwin for an engineering job in the Thermodynamics group at General Dynamics (later Lockheed and Lockheed Martin) in Fort Worth, Texas, where her father had also worked in the 1950’s. Sheryl worked as an analyst on the Environmental Control System of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, where Mr. Goodwin seated her next to another young engineer named Don Brunson. They hit it off immediately, and from that day on June 12 until her passing they were virtually inseparable for the next 34 years!
Unfortunately during this time Sheryl’s treasured mother Barbara contracted a serious illness which gradually took its toll. After an exhausting week of work, Sheryl drove to Houston almost every weekend to provide care, but her mother sadly passed away on December 2, 1986, an event which profoundly affected Sheryl for the rest of her life. But during this time and through the following years Sheryl and Don formed a deep and permanent friendship remarkable in its strength and steadiness, and they were married on July 21, 1999. Despite much tongue-in-cheek bickering and arguing which amazed and amused many people, they were truly a match made in heaven, through both good and bad times.
Sheryl was an extremely dedicated, conscientious, and hard worker willing to take-on the ordinary assignments others were too proud to do or didn’t have the patience to complete, so unfortunately she was saddled with many of them. She was also part of the first large wave of female engineers in the aerospace industry, and experienced the attendant good and bad things associated with changing times. Through it all she was a true team player beloved by her colleagues and bosses for her diligence, helpfulness, friendliness, sincerity, and good attitude. During this time Sheryl and often her dad often joined Don during weekends on his frequent business trips, traveling to both east and west coasts of the US, and having a wonderful time. Although she changed positions a few times over the years as projects and organizational changes came and went, Sheryl remained a steadfast and dedicated employee at the “Bomber Plant” until December 2011.
Sheryl was a good worker for the same reason she was a perfect wife – her tremendous character. She was honest to a fault, kind, loyal, patient, diligent, astonishingly tough and resilient, and extremely sincere and caring. She instinctively rooted for the underdog, but was not afraid to speak her mind when provoked, especially to her husband! A wonderful example of her love and compassion was when her beloved 92 year old maternal grandmother “Mimi”, Hettie Stockbridge, suffered a broken hip in Houston in January, 1992. Again, after a long work week at a stressful job, Sheryl (and usually Don when he wasn’t having to work) made the trip to Houston every weekend to relieve the home-health worker and care for Mimi during her recovery, repeating what Sheryl had done alone six years before for her ailing mother. Unfortunately, after having almost healed Mimi suffered another fall and re-broken hip and passed away on April 29, another major heartbreak for Sheryl.
Sadly, all this stress took a toll on Sheryl and three weeks later she suffered a moderately severe stroke, robbing her of speech for a few hours and incapacitating her for several weeks, although she eventually almost was able to almost totally recover through the Grace of God combined with a great deal of determined self-rehabilitation work involving much reading and study; crossword, Sudoku, and jigsaw puzzles; and thousands of games of Tetris on her computer, enough to aggravate her carpal tunnel. This recovery was the first of many courageous health battles that she won, but unfortunately this event began a long string of health maladies for Sheryl with which she struggled for the rest of her life. In August 1994, she was diagnosed with Stage IV endometrial cancer and given a 15% chance of survival for six months, but thanks to the supreme talents and treatments provided by oncologists Dr. Kenneth Hancock and Dr. Karen Nielsen she was able to fully recover and to live another 26 years. However, she was warned that the treatments were quite severe and might adversely affect her health 10-15 years down the road. Given the circumstances this was a deal worth taking, but proved to be all too true.
After leaving work in December, 2011, Sheryl occupied her time with a number of hobbies and interests. She was a life-long voracious reader, developing at Rice University an ability to speed-read which was quite amazing – she said it was the only way to keep up with the Rice work load. Sheryl would, and did, read anything, but particularly loved reading murder mysteries and late in life the Economist news magazine, which she avidly consumed cover-to-cover in her last months while largely bedridden. Unfortunately, she and Don rarely saw a book they didn’t buy, far outstripping their ability to store them. Sheryl also had a lifelong fascination with the wonders of astronomy and greatly enjoyed learning about galaxies, quasars, black holes, and new findings from the Hubble Space Telescope. She also absolutely loved visiting Don’s hometown in the Texas Panhandle and seeing the incredible array of stars at night. She collected many books on observatories around the world and never missed a science program about astronomy.
Sheryl was also an enthusiastic collector of cookbooks, significantly expanding her mother’s already very large collection. Later she got into quilting, visiting many quilt stores and buying a huge supply of quilting material but not getting around to making many quilts! A great fan and supporter of PBS radio and television, Sheryl was an enthusiastic viewer of their British TV comedies, mysteries, and science and news programs. Another life-long love was dogs of all types, which Sheryl absolutely adored, particularly her beloved miniature poodle Nicholas who came to live with her in Fort Worth after her Mimi’s passing. Fluent in Spanish, Sheryl also volunteered as an assistant in Fort Worth ISD’s English-as-a-second-language courses. Sheryl was very adaptable and tolerant, gaining an enthusiasm for Don’s strange hobbies of Spanish league soccer and Grand Prix car and motorcycle racing. But she was also very good at games and would regularly outwit Don, to his great annoyance! In the years before her health prevented it, they continued to love to travel and visit new places. Their favorite destination was San Diego, CA, which Sheryl and Don visited many times, and where they even experienced an earthquake which scared these Texans senseless but the locals ignored!
Being an only child from a relatively small family, Sheryl very much enjoyed being part of and visiting Don’s large extended family of mostly elderly farmers from the High Plains, whom she loved seeing and who all absolutely adored her. She was definitely “their kind of gal!” Throughout the year Sheryl was always wonderful at writing to these elderly family members and friends or remembering them with thoughtful cards or phone calls, which were so appreciated. At Christmas the car was packed to the absolute limit with dozens of Christmas gifts Sheryl had bought for everyone. Sheryl also loved buying hundreds of toys for the Angel Tree children and for Channel 8’s Christmas is for Caring children’s gift drive, and donated many thousands of dollars each year to many charities all over the world, always saying how she appreciated how good she had it in life and how sad it was so many did not.
In the mid 2000’s Sheryl began to experience progressively worsening medical difficulties resulting from her intensive cancer and stroke treatments, as well as from other maladies. Over the next several years these various health challenges progressively confined her to staying near home, and in the last couple of years largely to bed, but where she continued to read, closely follow the news, and keep that keen brain active. Even during this time Sheryl thought primarily of others and enjoyed knitting toboggan caps for friends and coworkers, making many dozens of custom-order caps for the cold winter months, and donating to even more charities.
Truly one of Sheryl’s greatest legacies is her amazingly positive influence on so many people’s lives. She was loved by all who knew her, and didn’t have an enemy. She had to bear many, many difficult and painful burdens, but always bore them serenely with absolute grace and class, smiling that beautiful smile, and never once through all those years complained about her situation or bad fortune. She was one of God’s greatest blessings for her family, friends, and colleagues, and we’re far better people for the inspiration provided by that wonderful blessing. Sheryl Lynn and her beautiful spirit are very sorely missed, but her inspiring legacy will live on far beyond her years on this earth. To all of us who miss her so, it’s at least a consolation to know she’s finally at peace with a perfect body and no longer carrying the burdens she shouldered for so long.
After her death Sheryl was cremated. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, 14 November at 2:00PM at Biggers Funeral Home in Lake Worth, TX to celebrate this wonderful, unique, and truly inspiring life.
Sheryl is survived by her husband Don Brunson of Benbrook, Texas; her father, Bob Clayton Hopkins of Benbrook; mother-in-law Virginia Brunson of Claude, Texas; brother-in-law Joe Brunson and his wife Laura of Dumas, Texas; Bob’s sister Judith Ann Rollins; her uncle Gerald Stockbridge and his wife Betty of Houston, Texas; two nephews and six cousins. Sheryl’s beloved mother, Barbara Stockbridge Hopkins, and uncle Harold Stockbridge preceded her in death.