A Life Lived: Bill Vilensky

Dr. Bill Vilensky and his wife, Cookie, celebrate Bill’s 75th birthday in 2003. Bill Vilensky’s work life took him from soda jerk to pharmacy owner to family doctor to expert witness in court cases involving doctors.

Photo provided by the Vilensky family

Bill Vilensky was just 8 or so when he started working in his father’s Seaside Pharmacy, in Atlantic City’s South Inlet neighborhood.

And Vilensky would keep working almost until he died July 30, at 84, decades after he moved to Margate. Over those 75-plus years, he built a resume with more specialties than his dad’s old-fashioned soda fountain — where a teenage Bill worked as a soda jerk.

After he graduated from Atlantic City High School, he went to pharmacy school. To pay his way, he was a stage manager for the Philadelphia Opera Company, said his wife of 25 years, Cookie Vilensky.

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With his pharmacy degree, Bill moved to Wildwood Crest, to open a pharmacy in Lower Township. But by 1963 — even though he was 35, married (to his first wife) and a father of two — Bill decided to sell the pharmacy and go back to school.

He went to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he soon met a 21-year-old classmate, Tom Santucci.

Santucci, now a retired doctor living in Egg Harbor Township, said they became friends and “mixed mentors” to each other.

“He was smarter, but I was a better student — because all I was was a student,” Santucci said. “He taught me a lot about life, and I taught him a lot about studying.”

During med-school summers and holidays, Bill worked. He gave scuba-diving lessons at motels and resorts around the Wildwoods. His daughter, 56-year-old Dr. Louisa Sanders, a dentist in Las Vegas, said she and her younger brother, Lee, “got to show off the (diving) equipment in the pools. So other kids would say, ‘Mommy, I want to do that.’”

Bill was an avid diver. Sanders said he was accomplished enough that he worked, sometimes, as an underwater stand-in on “Sea Hunt,” a TV show that starred Lloyd Bridges and ran from 1958 to 1961. At night, Bill was also a DJ on a local radio station, playing opera and classical music, Sanders said.

With his medical degree, he became a family doctor in Camden, Cookie Vilensky said. But he changed jobs again, moving to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey as a professor, where he developed a specialty that merged his two main careers: He created a national retraining course for doctors disciplined for prescribing narcotics improperly to make a profit.

Then he became an expert witness, either helping prosecute or defend doctors accused of prescribing for profit.

Bill was also a prize-winning photographer, good enough to sell some of his shots.

Still, in spite of his years of courtroom experience in medical cases, which he loved, he stopped short of adding a final line to his resume.

“Secretly,” his wife said, “I think he always wanted to be a lawyer, too.”

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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