Frank Wills

09/04/2012 2:28 PM |

Frank Wills, a devoted environmentalist and believer in civic involvement, died at home in Mattituck on Aug. 14, 2012, after a brief bout with pneumonia. He was 87 years old.

Frank Wills

Mr. Wills, a chemical engineer, had served as the chairman of the Southold Town renewable and alternative energy committee for the past three years, where he helped change the town code to encourage wind power and to enact the Dark Skies legislation.

He was born Franz Wurzburger in Stuttgart, Germany, on May 9, 1925, to Julius Wurzburger and Irma Hollander, who was first cousin to Edith Hollander, mother of Anne Frank. After the Nazi party came to power, he was sent to boarding school in Chateaux d‘Oex, Switzerland. His parents were later sent to a concentration camp, while his older sister, Monica, spent time in a refugee camp. His parents escaped and the family regrouped in England 1940. At age 15, Mr. Wills traveled from Switzerland to France and made one of the last crossings of the English Channel two days before the Nazi occupation of France in May 1940. His family then immigrated to New York City and changed their name to Wills.

Mr. Wills went to Stuyvesant High School from 1940-1943, and began studying chemical engineering at New York University in 1944. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1946. While in the Army, an explosive device detonated in his face while he was working to disarm it, requiring extensive surgery. He was honorably discharged from Valley Forge Hospital in Pennsylvania in 1947. He completed his studies at NYU in 1948 and went on to study at Columbia University and Stevens Institute of Technology, where he received a Master of Science in powder metallurgy and management.

Mr. Wills had a long career as an engineer and manager with American Metal Climax (AMAX), eventually serving as a vice president, traveling the world negotiating contracts. He was on temporary loan to the Atomic Energy Commission at Brookhaven National Laboratory for 18 months in the 1950s. After a long but eventually successful fight with jaw cancer, he retired from AMAX in the 1980s and started his own business, Reclamation Associates, which worked to find environmentally safe ways of handling metal byproducts. His colleagues remember him as an accomplished skier who never wore safety bindings on his boots and a man “of the highest integrity” who was considered one of the top scientists in his field.

Mr. Wills first visited the North Fork in the 1950s and built his dream house on the bluff overlooking Long Island Sound in 1961. He married Vera Goldman, a concert pianist, in 1967 and they shared many good years together, in both New York and Mattituck, until they separated in 1990, when he moved to Mattituck full time. He enjoyed classical music, opera, sculpting, sailing, skiing and mountaineering. He climbed Mount Rainier and skied Zermatt in Switzerland.

In his later years, he devoted most of his time to civic affairs. He served as president of the North Fork Environmental Council and as a trustee of Mattituck-Laurel Library, where he met his future wife, Jeanne Merkel, whom he married in 2009 and with whom he had hiked, sailed, traveled and enjoyed grandparenting for many years. He was a constant presence at Southold Town Board meetings, where he made frequent pointed suggestions on town business.

Mr. Wills is survived by his wife; his sister, Monica Smith of New York; his niece, Nicole Smith-Brody, and grandniece, Sophie Smith-Brody, both also of New York; and stepdaughters Beth Young and Shana Smith of Flanders and Rivkah Angel of Palo Alto, Calif.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. at the New Suffolk waterfront. The public is welcome to attend. Memorial donations may be sent to the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund or Mattituck-Laurel Library.

This is a paid notice.