John Scott McWhinnie, a top rare book dealer and collector, gallerist and bibliophile, died on Friday, January 6, in a snorkeling accident in the British Virgin Islands. He was 43.
Mr. McWhinnie and his wife, Maria Beaulieu, were pulled out to sea by a rip current off the island of Virgin Gorda. A bystander was able to rescue Ms. Beaulieu but could not get to Mr. McWhinnie in time.
One of the top rare book sellers in the world, Mr. McWhinnie split his time between East Hampton and Manhattan since 1998 as manager for the Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in East Hampton and director of John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, a rare book shop and art gallery on the Upper East Side in Manhattan that he opened in 2005. Mr. McWhinnie curated various book shows and exhibited contemporary artists like Richard Prince, Matthew Barney, Terry Richardson, Richard Phillips, Adam Fuss, Nick Weber, David Matterhorn, Peter Dayton, Peter Sabbath, Mats Gustafson, Ted Muehling, Jamison Ellis, Jill Muznicki, and Matt Satz.
“John’s heart was enormous and he always wanted people to shine,” Ms. Beaulieu said. “He felt incredibly fortunate to see and do all he did and wanted people, his friends and colleagues, to be successful.”
Mr. McWhinnie was an advocate for up-and-coming artists and loved connecting people and leading them down the right path.
Born January 29, 1968, to John and Betty McWhinnie in Wyandotte, Michigan, he began his fascination with books and art at a young age. After earning simultaneous bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy at Boston College where he was the valedictorian of his class, he taught philosophy in the Philippines for a year on a Fulbright Scholarship. He later attended Fordham to work on his doctorate. He was at the top of his class but didn’t finish the degree—he “was all but dissertation.”
Described as “an absolute bookworm,” a “walking dictionary,” and a “savior in spelling,” by Ms. Beaulieu, he began his rare book collection when he worked at Columbia University in the rare book and manuscript department. Mr. McWhinnie loved to collect 20th and 21st century works, especially Beat literature. A signed copy of “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac was his very first find that he flipped and sold for $800.
When selling his rare finds at a book fair while attending Fordham, he met Glenn Horowitz, who was immediately impressed with his selection, according to Ms. Beaulieu. After turning down Mr. Horowitz’s offer to run his East Hampton shop four times, he finally accepted at his wife’s suggestion that he try it for six months. He stayed for 13 years. Mr. Horowitz and Mr. McWhinnie also ran a small publishing company, JMc & GHB Editions.
Mr. McWhinnie’s home on Sammy’s Beach served as a recharge from the hustle of Manhattan. A quiet, private man, he loved to be alone with his books. His favorite time, however, was spending a quiet Sunday evening with his wife in front of the fireplace or walking the beach looking for beautiful rocks and shells at any time of the year.
Ms. Beaulieu met her husband when she was 18 and began dating him in 1988. They were together 24 years.
In addition to his wife, Mr. McWhinnie is survived by his parents, John and Betty McWhinnie of Maine; a sister, Lisa Paradis and her husband Paul of New Jersey; and a niece and nephew, Katelyn and Ryan.
A memorial service is planned for Thursday, January 19, at the Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy Park in Manhattan, at 10:30 a.m.