William G. Abel, M.D.

Well-Known Surgeon

William G. Abel, East Hampton’s pre-eminent surgeon as well as the chief of surgery at Southampton Hospital for many years, died on Aug. 15 at his home on Baiting Hollow Road here. He was 92.

Dr. Abel, a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, had two years of military service and a senior residence in surgery at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan behind him when, in 1952, he came to East Hampton to work with Dr. David Edwards. Later, at the East Hampton Medical Group, where he practiced for more than 30 years, he became well known to local residents and was widely respected. In the late 1980s, Dr. Abel moved on to serve in the breast cancer unit at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Wherever he went in his later years, Dr. Abel, a man known for forthright action and few words, encountered former patients who reminded him of  successful surgeries or recalled his delivery of a baby or two. Mary-Elizabeth Gifford, a former resident, credited him with saving her mother’s life in 1962 by performing emergency surgery after another Southampton Hospital physician called in a priest to administer last rites. The 27-year-old patient had suffered a broken neck and other severe injuries in an auto accident.

William George Abel was born to Delylah and William Abel in Birmingham, Ala., on Feb. 10, 1922. He and his wife, the former Helen Marie Thomsen, and a 3-year-old daughter lived first on Barns Lane in the village.

Over the years, Dr. Abel was a member of the East Hampton Village Board and Fire Department and president of the East Hampton Lions Club. He was a member or director of many medical associations, including the National Board of Medical Examiners. He was on the teaching faculty of the American Board of Abdominal Surgery and chairman of the trauma committee of the American College of Surgeons.

He also chaired the Suffolk County Traffic Safety Board, belonged to the New York State Disaster Committee and the Suffolk County Police Association, and was the medical officer for East Hampton Town civil defense.

When not otherwise engaged, Dr. Abel was a naturalist. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and, with his wife, gave several talks at the East Hampton Library on wildlife and wildflowers. An interview published in The East Hampton Star in 1971 took note of his crew cut and his paneled home office, decorated with decoys and plants.

He decried drinking and driving, saying that three times as many people had been killed as a result of traffic accidents in this country since the turn of the 20th century than in all its wars. He also argued that if all ambulances had trained full-time professionals many lives would be saved.

Dr. Abel is survived by his wife, who continues to live on Baiting Hollow Road, and by a daughter, Nancy Abel of Fremont, Calif. His first child, Susan Abel, died before him. No funeral services were held.