Walter Channing, Vintner Was 74

This article originally appeared in the East Hampton Star on March 19

obit_Walter_ChanningWalter Channing, who in a peripatetic career was, among other things, a sculptor, a venture capitalist, and a vintner, died at the Hamptons Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Southampton last Thursday at the age of 74. He had suffered from fronto-temporal dementia for several years and died from complications of the disease. His wife and four daughters were at his side.

Although known here for his large wood sculptures and as owner of the Channing Daughters Winery, Mr. Channing had been an early investor in the biotech and health care fields. One company that he funded developed software that provided health professionals with accurate models of patient behavior.

He began working with wood as a child and had a tree surgery business as a teenager. In an interview with The East Hampton Star in 1996, he described his surprise when, being interviewed for admission to Harvard, his interviewer turned out to be as interested “in chainsaws as academics.” His passion for sculpture is evident all across the property off Scuttlehole Road in Bridgehampton that he bought in 1977: trees impaled in the ground, roots up; fiberglass spheres, an immense cherry tree suspended upside down. He also created small polished works, and had exhibited in one-man and group shows here and in New York City, including in the OK Harris gallery.

The property in Bridgehampton had been in potato farming, and although Mr. Channing leased land to farmers for several years he eventually decided to try grapes. Eventually, the vineyard, one of the first on the South Fork, became a winery, with bottles whose label sported an upside-down tree.

Descended from a long line of New Englanders, including the founders of the Unitarian Church and of the Boston Lying-In Hospital, Mr. Channing was born in that city on Sept. 23, 1940, to Walter Channing, a businessman, and the former Eleine Taylor. His mother painted and his father worked with wood as a pastime. Their son attended the Charles River School and Milton Academy before graduating from Harvard College in 1964 and from the Harvard Business School in 1967.

He began a career in computer programming, working in New York City for the Honeywell and Raytheon corporations before joining a consulting firm that developed computer capabilities for large corporations. In time, he founded a health care consulting firm with Barry Weinberg, who became a longtime friend and business partner. Their firm became successful in venture capital as the C.W. Group.

Mr. Channing was a director of many of the companies the firm launched, including the GMIS Corporation, Velquest, Plexxikon, and Care Advantage. He also was on the boards of the Harvard School of Public Health and Outward Bound, and on the advisory committee of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. A member of the Century Club in Manhattan, he was an enthusiastic mentor of young people in his various fields of interest.

His family called him a multitalented and multifaceted man with a keen mind and a whimsical spirit. He was a world-class swimmer, skier, and sailor, they said, who began competing in triathlons in his 50s. He never abandoned his love affair with wood, even in New York City, where one day early in his career, from an office in the financial district, he noticed city workers ripping up a pier. “I found out they were taking everything out to sea on barges and burning it,” Mr. Channing told The Star. “That’s when I started to hoard wood. People thought I was crazy.”

Mr. Channing and Molly Seagrave were married in 1990. She survives him, as do four daughters, Francesca Channing and Isabella Channing of New York City and Sylvia Channing and Cornelia Channing of Bridgehampton. An earlier marriage to Susan Stockard ended in divorce. His second wife, Rosina Secco, died in 1987.

A memorial service is being planned, the date to be announced. H.S.R.