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Montanans Fulfill a Dying Man's Wish

September 18, 2002|From Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — Sharon Smith wanted badly to grant her dead husband's wish to have his ashes spread in his favorite state. But Montana is a long way from Interlachen, Fla.

With the help of a Montana newspaper columnist, a rural county sheriff and the U.S. mail, her husband's dying wish is being granted.

On Tuesday morning, Smith packed up the ashes of her husband, Clarence, who died in August, took them to the post office in Interlachen and had him shipped--by registered mail--to Treasure County Sheriff Steve Wilkins in the small town of Hysham, about 70 miles east of Billings.

Wilkins was one of more than 400 people who got in touch with Smith after her story appeared in a Sunday column by Ed Kemmick of The Billings Gazette.

Kemmick had written of Smith's desire to grant her husband's wish, but she had no friends or relatives in Montana and no means of making the trip herself.

The day the column appeared, her phone wouldn't stop ringing with calls from Montanans, even from people in neighboring Wyoming, who wanted to help. They flooded her with e-mails too.

But it was Wilkins with whom Smith finally entrusted her husband's ashes after listening to the message he left.

"He's somebody that my husband would like to have known," she said Tuesday. "I just wanted to make sure it was done proper. Everybody else had the concern, but it was something you can't describe, something you feel when you talk to him. I guess that's why he's a sheriff."

"I just thought it was neat that this gentleman, her husband, wanted to have his ashes spread over some nice area in Montana," Wilkins said.

"She sounded like somebody who needed help and I felt if I could help her, I should."

Clarence Smith, who died of cancer at age 56, had lived in Montana for 15 years and had tried unsuccessfully to convince his wife they should move here after they married in 1983.

His wife resisted. "I said, 'You're not putting me up there on the side of a mountain,' " Smith said. "He'd just look at me and shake his head, and say, 'You just don't realize....' "

Wilkins said he expects to receive the ashes in less than a week and intends to spread them Sept. 29 at one of his own favorite hunting spots.

Smith and Kemmick, the columnist, said they were surprised at the number of calls the column generated.

"Quite frankly, I was just pleased, as I always am, to find something to write about," Kemmick said.

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