Popular Hunt Valley optometrist taught himself to play guitar and shared his woodworking and cooking skills
Michael Billig, an optometrist who played the guitar and was a woodworker, died of cancer Oct. 2 at his Hunt Valley home. He was 59.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Pikesville, he was the son of Jack Billig, an owner of the A.J. Billig & Co. auctioneers, and Janet Abell.
He attended Sudbrook Junior High School and was a1974 graduate of Pikesville High School.
He earned a business degree at the University of Maryland, College Park, then went on to spend a year taking science courses for graduate school.
He enrolled at Boston’s New England College of Optometry, where he earned a degree in 1983.
“When he was growing up, people asked if he was related to the auctioneers,” said his brother, Daniel M. Billig of Owings Mills. “In the last 20 years, people asked me if I were related to Dr. Billig. His patients — and he had hundreds of them — loved him.”
While living in Boston, he met Elizabeth Jones “Liz” Seidenberg, who was a lab technician at Beth Israel Hospital. They later married.
Dr. Billig established a practice in Baltimore. He initially worked In local practices, and joined Ruxton Towers Eye Associates in 1989. He specialized in contact lens fitting.
“He would see families for 25 years or more,” said his wife. “He listened to what his patients’ needs were. He once had a Baltimore Symphony member come with his instrument. He studied how far the music stand was from his eyes and then made the adjustment to the lens.”
Fond of music, Dr. Billig taught himself to play guitar while he was in high school. He never gave up the instrument and specialized in 1970s rock.
“He played for self-enjoyment, he played for me and he played for a couple of close friends,” said his wife, a library assistant at Friends School. “He wished he were a singer. He really didn’t like to play in front of people or have an audience. When he had free time, he’d be in his wood shop playing music or recording it.”
Dr. Billig also taught himself woodworking skills and had a lathe in his basement.
“Patients would bring him sections of a tree that had fallen on their property, and before long he’d make it into a beautiful object,” said his wife. “Then he would return it to them in a different shape.
“He made a chess set for my son,” she said. “All the pieces were precise and beautiful.”
Dr. Billig worked with an architect to build a home in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, about six years ago. He had plans to create a woodworking room and a music studio in the residence, where he intended to spend retirement. “He was a born chef. He could look in the pantry and would create a fabulous meal,” said his wife. “He didn’t go out to dinner so much, as we would have people over. He created a recipe book for our son. The whole family benefited from his expertise.”
Among his standard dishes were pasta sauces, stews, smoked salmon and crab dip.
“If he went to a restaurant, which wasn’t that often, and he had something he liked, he would figure it out and work until he duplicated it,” said his wife. “He was not a baker, but he was a wonderful entree chef.”
Services were held Oct. 9 at Sol Levinson and Brothers.
In addition to his brother and wife of 31 years, survivors include his son, Maxwell Billig of Towson; and his parents, who live in Brooklandville. A 2-year-old daughter, Madeleine “Maddie” Billig, died in 1993. Another brother, Andrew Billig, died in April. “His patients — and he had hundreds of them — loved him,” Michael Billig’s brother said.