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Obituary of Harry R. Bean VI: Photographer, entrepreneur, friend to nonprofits

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 15, 2009 - Harry R. Bean VI once modestly described himself as a man who attended parties for a living. But Mr. Bean, who died Wednesday (April 15, 2009), was in fact a brilliant entrepreneur and a friend to hundreds of St. Louis charities.

Mr. Bean, 53, was a professional photographer who built a thriving for-profit business by serving nonprofits. He and a stable of 30 photographers snapped pictures of the wealthy, the beautiful and the well-intentioned at local charity events. Mr. Bean would then post those pictures within 48 hours on his website Blacktie-StLouis.com where partygoers (and those whose invitations were lost in the mail) could see who turned out and how they were decked out.

Mr. Bean collapsed and died early Wednesday as he worked out at Snap Fitness Center on Forest Park Boulevard, not far from his home in the city's Central West End. His wife, Lisa Roettger Bean was with him and immediately called for assistance, but resuscitation efforts failed.

Visitation for Mr. Bean's family will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Lupton Chapel, 7233 Delmar Boulevard, University City. A memorial Mass will be celebrated  Monday at Annunziata Catholic Church, 925 Cella Road (at Clayton Road) in Ladue. It begins at 11 a.m. with visitation followed by the Mass at noon.

Mr. Bean once estimated that he and his photographers covered up to 300 events a month  and that he personally had attended more than 25,000 parties in more than a quarter of a century on the social circuit. A few years ago, he estimated that his website drew more than 2.3 million visitors a month. Another fun fact: Mr. Bean is the owner of 11 tuxedos.

Though he shot the rich and famous, Mr. Bean could never be mistaken for a paparazzo. For one thing, he rarely took a photo without the subjects' acquiescence. And he would sometimes pull a photo off his website if a maven didn’t appreciate how she looked or if a guy or a girl with a special other was captured in someone else’s embrace.

And the party photos in Mr. Bean’s mind were really just his carnival barker’s way of bringing people into the nonprofit tent. His Blacktie website provided a community gathering place where charities could promote their fundraising events, sell tickets and connect with other people supporting worthy causes.

But it surely was a great way to make a living. The St. Louis Business Journal estimated in 2006 that that Blacktie was a multi-million dollar operation with the money coming from charities that pay Blacktie to publicize and photograph their events; caterers and hotels that advertised, and, of course, partygoers who would buy prints.

Each party Mr. Bean covered would spawn dozens of photographs featuring hundreds of attendees. And Mr. Bean also made sure to take vertical shots, knowing his audience wanted to see the entire gown, not just head and shoulders.

He took a democratic approach. No event was too small if its purpose was to help someone in need. "We cover everything from trivia nights to dog walks to pledge drives," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You don't have to be part of that tiny wealthy group. Everybody can get their picture taken now. Of course, attractive and wealthy is always the best mix."

Mr. Bean, Ladue High Class of 1973, was comfortable with that set having attended a slew of debutante parties starting at age 14, and escorting “some of the prettiest young girls from some of the wealthiest families,” according to Stanley F. Bronstein, the author of a book about successful entrepreneurs. According to Bronstein, Bean’s father would dress up as a chauffeur and drive young Harry and his date to the parties.

Mr. Bean’s love affair with the lens began in college when he walked into a camera store in Wellesley, Mass., while attending nearby Babson College. The proprietor “was sophisticated, and showed me how it all worked and sold me a lot of equipment,” Bean recalled for the Business Journal. “From there I had lot of people show me different aspects of the field.”

Bean had an opportunity to work for IBM after college, but instead returned to St. Louis where he worked with his mother, Joan “Judy” Bean, selling cosmetics. He then started with the Ladue News selling ads. Given that paper’s particular approach it was easy to find his way into the party scene and a use for all that camera equipment. Also about that time, Bean began producing an annual hard bound volume, “Bean’s Burgundy Book” featuring the region’s top 100 parties.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Bean met his wife, Lisa, at a benefit. Mr. Bean recalled that he was being auctioned off as a bachelor for $2,800. But Lisa hadn’t bid. In fact, Mr. Bean joked, she told him he wasn’t worth that much.

Mr. Bean also started sister websites to Blacktie: Arts to Zoo – St. Louis, which follows the arts community and Blacktie-Clique, which focuses on the area’s bar and restaurant scene.At Blacktie-Clique visitors can also find an array of celebrity shots Mr. Bean has taken over the years,from Yogi Berra to Desmond Tutu to Vanna White. 

The Beans raised their community profile in 2005 with their Blacktie Foundation Charity Ball at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles. The ball was designed to support 300 local charitable organizations. They saw the gala as a way for nonprofits large and small to benefit without having to put so much energy into putting on their own event. The Blacktie event featured fire-eaters, magicians, stilt walkers and show girls.

A longtime friend, Wally Steinman, said Mr. Bean was one of the most dynamic people he'd ever known. "He could remember everyone's name," Steinman said. And it wasn't so much that he knew the names, "but he would really get to know the people."

Along with Lisa Bean and Judy Bean, Mr. Bean is survived by his daughter, Chelsea, a student at Missouri State University in Springfield; a brother, Jim (Kathy) Bean, of San Francisco; and a sister, Elise Carver (Paul), of Washington, D.C.

The family requests that memorials be sent to a nonprofit of the donor’s choice, as Harry Bean loved them all.

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