Albert P. Pontick, a pioneer veterinarian in towns from Riverhead to East Hampton, died on July 24 at the Southampton Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, just a few months short of his 99th birthday. The cause was renal failure, said his son, Albert Pontick Jr.
Dr. Pontick took over the East Hampton Animal Hospital in 1941. At the time, the practice was about 60 percent “large animal” — livestock and horses. As East End farms disappeared, he witnessed a shift in clientele from farmers to the rich and famous.
After one semester at Temple University in Philadelphia on a baseball scholarship (he threw out his arm and didn’t make the team), he left. His plan was to become a journalist, but Mac Miller, who would become his brother-in-law, dissuaded him, he told an interviewer in 2008, saying, “Your grades weren’t that high in English, so you really don’t have a good start. And you don’t have any money. Why don’t you become a veterinarian? You get your education for free.”
Dr. Pontick then transferred to Cornell, where Henrietta (Hatter) Wells, the love of his life, whom he’d met as a first grader in Setauket, was a student there. He graduated from Cornell’s veterinary school in 1939.
Born in rural Pennsylvania, Dr. Pontick was raised in an eight-child family; they had a cow, chickens, and rabbits. His father died at 38, and his mother remarried a man who’d just lost his farm and become a laborer. Times were tough during the Depression, and the young man worked four jobs to help the family out.
Dr. Pontick’s first practice, right after he graduated, was in Rochester. After a year, he moved to Riverhead, where he satisfied his earlier journalistic ambition, writing a series of articles on animal diseases for a weekly magazine published by the U.S. Farm Bureau. The series caught the attention of Norman Gould and six other East Hampton dairy farmers, whose longtime veterinarian, Dr. William Bennett, had just died.
The men met with Dr. Pontick, and soon after he took over the animal hospital here. Even at Cornell, he recalled in a 1989 interview in this newspaper, he had never worked such long hours. “Farmers would call me as early as their first rounds in the morning . . . and late in the evening, if they thought it couldn’t wait the night.” He shifted between farmland and the veterinary office, sometimes taking numerous showers a day to be presentable.
Appointments were rare at his veterinary office, which was attached to his house. Clients would drop in at all hours with all types of animals. One time, Dr. Pontick successfully removed a tumor from a snake. Recalling the ordeal, he said, “They don’t teach you that in vet school.”
Office visits were originally priced at $1.50, and were around $20 when he sold the practice in 1976. Everyone had a charge account at the hospital, and Dr. Pontick wasn’t a stickler for cash-only payments. Dr. Pontick accepted payments in art from local artists, including Willem de Kooning, and had a “lifetime supply” of eggs from local farmers.
He spent much of his retirement in Boynton Beach, Fla., where he enjoyed golf, gardening, and cooking. He is survived by two daughters, Joan Colangelo of Hampton Bays, who had been his caretaker for the past 12 years, and Judith Haller of Gainesville, Va., and his son, who lives in Sarasota, Fla. He also leaves two grandchildren.
Dr. Pontick was a member of the East Hampton School Board, the Lions Club, and the Presbyterian Church. The family has suggested donations in his memory to the Lighthouse for the Blind, 111 East 59 Street, New York 10022. A memorial service is planned at a future date.