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VOL. 122 | NO. 220 | Monday, November 19, 2007

Silver Screen Tribute: With movie and more, Smith family honors memory

By Andy Meek

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ON THE SET: Hilary Swank, star of "P.S. I Love You," is seated next to the movie's producer, Molly Smith, right, the daughter of FedEx founder Fred Smith. Molly Smith pushed to get the film made as a tribute to her late sister, Sandra Windland Smith Rice. -- Photo Courtesy Of Alcon Entertainment

A few weeks after her sister died in 2005, Molly Smith bought a copy of Cecelia Ahern's debut novel "P.S. I Love You" on a whim. Swept up in the story of a grieving young widow who comes to terms with her husband's death, she ultimately read it several times over.

Its hopeful message resonated with Smith, whose sister, Sandra Windland Smith Rice, had died suddenly that year from a genetic defect that affects the heart's rhythm. Rice was the oldest child of FedEx chairman, president and CEO Frederick W. Smith, as well as a wife and mother, renowned nature photographer and wildlife champion.

Molly Smith found such comfort in the book's pages while coping with her sister's loss that an idea emerged: someone, she thought, should turn this story into a movie.


Hitting the big screen

Smith, who already had worked on the production end of moviemaking for a few years, called the partners who head the film company Alcon Entertainment and pitched the idea. Part of Alcon's bankroll, incidentally, came from the FedEx founder himself.

The company's partners Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson apparently saw the same thing in the story that Molly Smith did. And "P.S. I Love You," which opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 21, represents her first work as the main producer for a major motion picture.

It stars an A-list cast that includes Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler and Harry Connick Jr. Molly's parents recently attended a private screening of the film, and at the end there is a dedication to her sister "Wendy."

"This is my first one as the main producer," Smith said. "I got to make a very special film about something that's very special and personal to me. I think we've made a film that a lot of people can go see together and relate to. It's a movie about finding laughter through tears."

Speaking by phone from his company's California office, Kosove and Johnson recalled their own acquaintanceship with Rice.

"Broderick and I knew her really well - she was an extraordinary woman, a great mother, beautiful photographer, a great, great person," Kosove said. "I know the book was something that was very comforting to the family. Molly came to us to do this as a tribute to Windland.

"One of the things you'll see in the movie is that there's a comedic element to a lot of the story. Much of it is handled with a light touch. I think that's appropriate, because I don't think I ever saw Windland without a smile on her face."

Remembering a loved one

The movie, however, stands as just one example of the several ways that members of the Smith family continue to preserve the memory of Rice's extraordinary life.

For the last several months, construction has progressed on what eventually will become a state-of-the-art library and classroom building on the campus of St. Mary's Episcopal School, where Rice was an alumna. Rice's memory will be permanently enshrined in that facility, which will bear her name.

Some of her nature and wildlife photography will be displayed inside. Architects, planners, contractors and school officials have worked closely with the Smith family to craft certain details of the building, which is part of the third phase of the school's capital campaign.

The construction project is a hard-to-miss sight along Perkins Road, where the unfinished building is expected to be completed and open by fall. The Smith family pledged $5 million toward its completion.

A new middle school will be enclosed in the finished Windland Smith Rice Building, as well as the James Frederick Smith Library, named in honor of Fred Smith's father.

"It is a privilege to be able to honor Wendy's memory in such a lasting way," said Riki Jackson, director of advancement for the school.

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