Remembering William Watson Esseks

August 15, 2022 – William Watson Esseks, one of the firm’s founders, has died at the age of 88.  He had practiced law on Eastern Long Island for 54 years, most of that period for the firm that he formed in 1965 and still bears his name.

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 Long Island’s 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 his wife, Dorothy Clark Esseks, who passed in 2017. 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.

Bill was fond of telling younger firm attorneys the story about how he had a government law job lined up after law school in Washington, D.C., but one of his father’s colleagues gave him advice that would change his path:  “If you want to learn how to really practice law, be a country lawyer for a few years.  You can always come back to D.C.”  Bill took the advice, moved to Riverhead in 1959 with Dorothy, but never left. That year, he joined Griffing, Smith & Tasker, practicing in Riverhead and Greenport until 1965, when he formed the firm Tooker Tooker & Esseks.  He worked for the next 48 years mostly from the firm’s Main Street office in Riverhead (which remains the firm’s primary office to this day), but could usually be found on Fridays at an office he kept in Water Mill.   Bill was a senior member of the firm, whose name had changed over the years and was called Esseks Hefter & Angel at his retirement in 2013.

Over more than a half century, Bill left an indelible mark on the East End’s legal community and its landscape.  He focused on land use and planning issues, representing owners and local governments in controversies over real estate development.  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 the 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.  One of his favorite cases near the end of his career was his successful representation of the East Hampton Library in its hard-fought effort to expand its children’s wing.

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, Nebraska.

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

A memorial service will be held this fall.  For more information, please email