Former Dallas Cowboys QB Don Meredith’s daughter suffered as her family fought over her care

With his larger than life personality, Dallas Cowboys quarterback and television football host Don Meredith lived in the public spotlight.

Privately, he sought to ensure a lifetime of care for his youngest child, Heather, who was born with physical and intellectual disabilities.

As a result, Heather, now 49 and described as “pleasant and bubbly,” enjoyed a quiet, comfortable life in Kentucky at Stewart Home & School, a well-appointed, private residential center in Frankfort for many years. 

But after he died in 2010, events took a different turn when control of Heather's affairs passed to the football star's widow, Susan Meredith, his third wife and Heather's stepmother. 

Over the past year, alleged abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of Heather culminated in a court battle in Frankfort over control of Heather’s affairs, pitting Susan Meredith against Heather's mother, Cheryl King, who was Don Meredith's second wife. 

The monthslong controversy over Heather’s well-being ended this year with a court settlement in which King replaced Heather's stepmother as guardian and Susan Meredith agreed to add more than $1 million to Heather's trust, which contained less than $300,000 at the time.

The abuse allegations and dispute over Heather's care unfolded in a series of confidential court and social services proceedings.

But more than 1,000 pages of documents from a separate investigation by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, obtained by the Courier Journal through an open records request, detail the controversy triggered by a 2017 complaint of alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation of Heather from Franklin District Court, which oversees guardianship cases.

Among the allegations, Heather, under the guardianship of Susan Meredith:

  • Suffered from untreated broken and abscessed teeth;
  • Wore used, shabby clothing and shoes;
  • Lacked basic personal supplies;
  • Was restricted from school outings and activities her stepmother insisted she could not afford through the trust, saying she might be forced to remove her from the school.

Susan Meredith also failed to file required, annual financial reports with Franklin District Court, according to the allegations.

The allegations initially were substantiated by state social service officials but were later thrown out following an appeal by a lawyer for Susan Meredith who submitted a letter objecting to the findings and saying his client "properly cared for Heather." 

Susan Meredith, 76, who has homes in New Mexico and California, disputed any wrongdoing on her part in a brief telephone interview and said the matter was settled amicably.

“The child was very well taken care of,” she said. “I think everything is fine.”

She also called a reporter “reprehensible” for inquiring about the matter.

“Why is that your business?” Susan Meredith asked. “It’s all been taken care of. Why do you want to share that with the public and smear people’s names?”

She referred further questions to her lawyer, Robert Moore, of Frankfort, who declined to comment, citing confidentiality concerns.

King, of Texas, Heather's 74-year-old mother, declined to speak with a reporter.

But in a statement from a spokesman, King said Heather continues to thrive at the Stewart school, which specializes in caring for people with intellectual disabilities at its historic campus surrounded by trees and rolling pastures.

"Heather is doing really well and is so happy there – they really understand her and look after her," the statement said. "Don agreed that his estate would make sure Heather would always be able to stay at Stewart Home and School — it was a place I know he loved."

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