A native of the city, he joined the family firm of Samuel T Freeman & Co as a graduate from Wesleyan University in 1958. He took his final sale at Freeman’s, wearing his trademark bow tie, as recently as June 12.
Across his career, Beau was involved in all aspects of the auction business. “I ain’t never had no other job,” he cracked in an interview in 1980 marking the firm’s 175th anniversary. He learned to appreciate the finer points of Philadelphia furniture and American clocks while sweeping floors and making deliveries in his 20s.
Later he would take on the role of chairman, responsible for steering an ageing institution into the 21st century.
Great finds emerged along the way: a copy of the Dunlap Declaration of Independence unearthed in the storerooms of a local book store sold for $404,000 in 1969, a Thomas Affleck chest-on-chest hammered down at a record $92,000 in 1975 and a pair of $265,000 Tucker porcelain vases in 1997.
Beau took the gavel in 2012 when Freeman’s sold a cache of flags from the USS Constitution.
“A true Chestnut Hill gentleman” is how many will remember him best, blessed with considerable charm and a dry wit but always courteous and humble with it.
His office was a place where people often stopped for advice, friendly conversation, or simply to hear a lively anecdote from Freeman’s past.
As a student of family history he was delighted to receive, as an 80th birthday gift, an engraving produced at the Covent Garden print shop of his great-great-great grandfather Tristram Bampfylde Freeman (1767-1836), who first became a Philadelphia auctioneer in 1805.
While Beau would perhaps have been content to adhere to his father’s advice that a man should appear in the column inches of the newspapers just twice – once when they were born and again when they had lived a full life – from the late 1970s he assumed the role of company figurehead.
If most comfortable with an estate to appraise or on the rostrum with gavel in hand, he also proved a steely custodian of the family firm, ensuring its survival among America’s leading regional firms.
Beau did not achieve his desire to pass Freeman’s on to a seventh generation but he did oversee its sale to a team of long-term colleagues who shared his steadfast passion for the auction business in 2016.
“Passing Freeman’s on to Hanna (Dougher), Alasdair (Nichol) and Paul Roberts), who have led the business for the past 16 years, feels as though we are keeping the business in the family,” he said at the time.
He leaves his wife, Peggy, his four children and eight grandchildren.