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William Channing "Bill" Smith

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WILLIAM CHANNING ("BILL") SMITH 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 and earned top DeMolay honors before enlisting in the Army Air Corps, where as an aviation cadet he served 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 from Cornell University, where he was named to the honorary society Al Djebar. Smith then attended the University of Illinois in Urbana on a research fellowship in inorganic chemistry, and received his Ph.D. in 1954, also serving as president of the Zeta Chapter, Alpha Chi Sigma, a professional chemical fraternity. Following his graduation, Dr. Smith joined E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co. in Wilmington, Delaware, as a research chemist, and his work at duPont's experimental station earned the company over 30 U.S. patents on which Dr. Smith was individually named. Offers to work in other textile companies in research and supervisory positions brought Dr. Smith to the Carolinas, where he spent the rest of his life - first to the Research Triangle Park, 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 leave the struggling textile industry and 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, from its original focus on selling inexpensive wines in 13 counties, to an operation that covered over half the state, with over 80 employees distributing fine domestic and imported wines and beers, in a North Carolina market that was growing increasingly sophisticated, in the Triangle and all points east. Dr. Smith sold his company in 1990 and retired, but he remained passionate about business, his community and politics, and also traveled widely to various locations around the world with his wife Barbara, who had been so instrumental in helping him grow his wine business. Dr. Smith's local outreach included service as Chairman of the Board of the Salvation Army in New Bern, selection onto the N.C. Governor's Small Business Council, membership in the New Bern Rotary Club, and after his retirement, work as Chairman of the Board of the New Bern YMCA. Dr. Smith also had a lifelong love of music, singing in the Cornell Glee Club, and drumming and later judging of 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: fellow Cornell graduate William C. 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 p.m. 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. Dr. Smith's family thanks the staff of Davis Health Care for their loving care afforded during the past four years.
Published in the Wilmington Star-News on May 4, 2014
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