William Watson Esseks

William Watson Esseks of Aquebogue died on Aug. 15, 2022, at 88 years old. Bill was a lawyer in Riverhead for 54 years.

Bill and his wife, Dorothy Clark Esseks, who passed in 2017, moved to Riverhead in 1959, when Bill started practicing law here and Dorothy began teaching in the Riverhead public schools.

Bill was born in Englewood, N.J., and grew up in Tenafly, N.J., and New Rochelle, N.Y. His father was a lawyer in the United States Department of Justice and in private practice in New York City. His mother raised Bill and his three siblings. Bill’s family spent summers in Center Moriches, where he was first introduced to the wonders of the East End, which became the center of his personal and professional life. 

Bill attended New Rochelle High School and then Oberlin College, where he met Dorothy. He majored in government and spent a college semester at American University in Washington, D.C. Bill graduated from New York University School of Law in 1959. 

That same year, Bill joined the Griffing, Smith & Tasker law firm, practicing in Riverhead and Greenport. In 1965, he joined the firm Tooker Tooker & Esseks in Riverhead, and was a senior member of that firm (now Esseks, Hefter, Angel, DiTalia & Pasca) for 48 years until his retirement in 2013. Bill specialized in land use planning issues, representing individuals and businesses as well as local governments in controversies over real estate development, mostly in the five East End towns. He represented his clients in many fora, from zoning boards and town boards to the highest courts in the state and nation. He argued seven cases before New York’s highest court, winning six. 

Bill was an avid reader and devoted himself early on to the cause of public libraries, serving on the board of Riverhead Free Library and chairing the library’s building committee for the construction of its first building. He was also on the board of the Suffolk County Cooperative Library System and active in the American Library Association. He was a champion of public funding of and public access to books and knowledge. 

Bill was a dedicated runner for many years, completing innumerable 5K and 10K races locally as well as several half marathons. He also loved to sail and spend time on the water and often remarked that it made no sense to travel in the summer when this was the prettiest place in the world. Bill and Dorothy were also avid dancers, whirling each other across dance floors all around the world on their travels. 

Bill is survived by daughter Katherine; son James and his husband, Rob Ornstein; son David and his wife, Katy Stokes; grandchildren William and Eloise Esseks; and brother John Dixon Esseks and his wife, Molly Esseks, of Lincoln, Neb. 

Donations in Bill’s memory can be made to the Friends of Riverhead Free Library. 

A memorial service will be held this fall. For more information, please call Katy Stokes at 917-733-4037.

This is a paid notice.