William Channing Smith, Ph. D.
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William Channing ("Bill") Smith, a Ph.D. chemist, wine distributorship owner, loving family member and part of the "Greatest Generation," died peacefully on April 29, 2014, in Wilmington, NC., with his wife of 58+ years, Barbara Verne Smith, by his side.
Born on May 7, 1925, to Charles and Demmis Smith in Geneva, NY., Smith attended Geneva High School before enlisting in the Army Air Corps, serving in World War II as a bombardier-navigator. While testing a newly-designed Army plane in Oklahoma one night, he noticed unexpected lights off to the left, which turned out to be Houston, as the plane was headed off-course toward the Gulf of Mexico. The incident led Smith to a renewed faith in the Almighty, and the Army to realize (after receiving his report) that it had failed to account for the new plane's bubble's refraction effect on existing navigation equipment, yielding a corrective change. Smith left the Army as a second Lieutenant, and earned B.A. and M.S. degrees with honors from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry in 1954 from the University of Illinois in Urbana. Following graduation, Dr. Smith joined E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co. in Wilmington, Delaware as a research chemist, earning the company over 30 U.S. patents on which Dr. Smith was individually named.
Dr. Smith moved to the Carolinas to work with other textile firms, to the Research Triangle Park in NC., then to Spartanburg, SC., and ultimately to New Bern, NC., where he would spend more than 35 years. At age 50, Dr. Smith decided to become an entrepreneur, buying a local wine distributorship in 1975. During the next 15 years, Dr. Smith transformed this 3-person company, which he renamed East Carolina Distributing Company, to an operation that covered over half the state, with over 80 employees distributing fine domestic and imported wines and beers. Dr. Smith sold this company in 1990 and retired. He remained passionate about business, his community and politics, and also traveled around the world with his wife Barbara, who had been so instrumental in helping him grow his wine business.
Dr. Smith also served as Chairman of the Board of the Salvation Army in New Bern, on the N.C. Governor's Small Business Council, as a member of the New Bern Rotary Club, and as Chairman of the Board of the New Bern YMCA. Dr. Smith had a lifelong love of music, singing in the Cornell Glee Club, and drumming and later judging Drum and Bugle Corps competitions. He met his wife through music, when both sang in the chorus of a 1954 stage production of "Brigadoon" by the Brandywiners, a local Delaware theatre group that performed at Longwood Gardens. Dr. Smith continued singing in Episcopal Church choirs for much of his adult life.
Dr. Smith is survived by wife Barbara, who lives in Wilmington, NC., and their three children who also provided comfort during his passing: William C. "Wick" Smith, Jr. (Terry) of Atlanta, GA., Gregory S. Smith (Melissa) of Washington, DC., and Wendy Smith Bugbee (Tom) of Wilmington, NC., as well as his six grandchildren (Brady, Tara, T.J., Channing, Ceci and Will), and a great-granddaughter (Emi).
A memorial service will be held at the Lebanon Chapel at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, NC., on May 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm. Dr. Smith will be laid to rest later, at Christ Episcopal Church in New Bern, NC. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Cure Alzheimer's Fund, 34 Washington Street, Suite 200, Wellesley Hills, MA., 02481, or at www.curealz.org, or to St. James Episcopal Church, 25 South 3rd Street, Wilmington, NC., 28401.
Published in The News Journal on May 4, 2014