Frederick Smith

April 5, 1925 - Dec. 14, 2018
Frederick Smith, April 5, 1925 - Dec. 14, 2018

Frederick Rutledge Smith, an adventurer, sportsman, and a founding editor of Sports Illustrated, died at his Wainscott home on Dec. 14. He was 93 and had been in declining health for some time. 

Mr. Smith created Sports Illustrated’s first swimsuit issue in 1964, a position that enabled him to raise the profiles of up-and-coming models such as Christie Brinkley. A pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II stationed in this country, he learned to do a loop-the-loop in a Stearman open-cockpit biplane. 

After the war, he moved to New York, where, decades later, he met Robert Schaeffer, the man he would marry in 2001. Before moving to Wainscott, he had rented a house in Sagaponack and lived in Los Angeles, 

Mr. Smith learned to ski at Sugar Bush, Vt., and had traveled the world to the most challenging slopes, among them in the Alps and at Aspen and Squaw Valley. He particularly loved Les Trois Vallées in France, where he would take a turboprop plane to ski on a glacier. A world traveler, he crossed Lake Titicaca on a steamboat, crossed the Andes by train, and visited Fiji, Tahiti, and Bora Bora, where he went scuba diving and scouted exotic locations, to which he eventually returned to supervise shoots by photographers such as Peter Beard, Ernst Haas, and Gordon Parks for the magazine. He also curated a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of sporting equipment.

Early in his publishing career, Mr. Smith worked for the Book of the Month Club and for True, a men’s magazine, for which he persuaded Polly Adler, an infamous New York madam, to sell him the condensation rights to her autobiography. He thought of it as his biggest coup. 

Rising through the ranks of publishing, he became editor-in-chief of American Home magazine and then president and editorial director of East/West Network, a now-defunct series of in-flight magazines, which he helped create and from which he retired in 1990. In retirement, he wrote about sports, travel, and design for such magazines as Town and Country and Ski.

At 84, Mr. Smith wrote and published “The Road to Wainscott,” a book that described his life, beginning with his childhood in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama, and while in college took a creative writing course with Harper Lee. 

Over the years, Mr. Smith developed a wide circle of friends that included writers, artists, fashion celebrities such as Coco Chanel, actors such as Olivia de Havilland, and Jean-Claude Killy, the French skier.

 He also became an accomplished watercolor artist, and into his 90s showed still life and landscape paintings at the Artist Members Exhibition at Guild Hall and at the libraries in Amagansett and East Hampton. 

He was a member of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton, for which he helped conceive a columbarium, where his ashes will be laid to rest. 

Born on April 5, 1925, in Montgomery, Ala., to the former Mary Burton Matthews and Frederick Rutledge Smith, his family roots extended to Charleston, S.C., where three of his ancestors were signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

He is survived by his husband, a sister, Burton Harris of Louisville, Ky., and five nieces and two nephews.  

A memorial service will be held at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton at a date to be determined. The family has suggested donations to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach 11978.