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Jack F. Billig, auctioneer of well-known Baltimore restaurants and landmarks, dies

Jack F. Billig was a longtime patron of The Prime Rib restaurant.
Jack F. Billig was a longtime patron of The Prime Rib restaurant.

Jack Furman Billig, an auctioneer who said “Sold” to scores of Baltimore landmarks, including the old Pimlico Hotel and the Danny’s and Chesapeake restaurants, died of multiple organ failure Thursday at Symphony Manor in Roland Park. The Pikesville resident was 88.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Abraham J. Billig, who founded the auction business, and his wife, Sara Awrach, whose family owned the Awrach and Perl delicatessen on Howard Street. As a young man, he worked at his mother’s business.

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Mr. Billig was the second generation to head family-owned A.J. Billig & Co., Auctioneers of Baltimore.

He was raised on Dorchester Road in the Callaway-Garrison neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore. He was a 1950 graduate of Baltimore City College and earned degrees at the University Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland School of Law.

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In 1954 Mr. Billig married Janet Abell. They had met as students at the University of Maryland.

After working in his mother’s deli, he joined his father and became an auctioneer, appraiser and real estate broker. In the business for 60 years, he was called upon to sell everything from funeral homes, including their inventory of caskets, to a farmhouse on Offut Road in Randallstown. The new owners found cash and gold coins in its walls and returned them to Mr. Billig.

“During his tenure, the firm evolved from a general auctioneer of household furnishings, commercial and industrial equipment and merchandise of all varieties, to primarily sales of real estate,” said his son, Daniel Billig.

His son said Mr. Billig conducted auctions of raw land, lots and subdivisions, industrial facilities, restaurants, hotels, resort and golf course properties, apartment complexes, commercial centers, investment properties, farms, condominiums, partnership interests, land leases and thousands of homes.

Over the years Mr. Billig sold numerous Baltimore landmarks. He sold the old Emerson Hotel at Calvert and Baltimore streets, including its furniture, restaurant china and silver plate serving dishes.

When Silber’s Bakery closed, he sold its equipment. He also sold well-known restaurants such as the Pimlico Hotel, Chesapeake and Danny’s.

He handled the sales of the Jefferson office building and the Penthouse condominium in Towson, the Trumpy Yacht Company in Annapolis and the equipment of the Baltimore Clippers hockey team.

A 2003 article in The Sun described his role in the sale of family homes belonging to older people who were leaving estate planning to their children.

“People get older, they can’t take care of themselves. They get moved into nursing homes,” said Mr. Billig, who explained that his company was then selling two or three guardianships weekly.

“Their families don’t want their houses, and the houses many times need extensive repairs. Generally, they’re in very good areas and they require people who have the ability to fix them up," he said.

Mr. Billig was a member of the National Auctioneers Association, Auctioneers Association of Maryland and the Baltimore, Maryland and National Associations of Realtors.

He was inducted into the Auctioneers Association of Maryland Hall of Fame in 1996. His clients included government agencies, law firms, banks, insurance companies, trustees appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and state circuit courts.

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He also had numerous government clients, including the FDIC, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, Freddie Mac, Farm Credit Bureau, Baltimore Economic Development Corporation and U.S. Small Business Administration.

Mr. Billig was a volunteer for more than 50 years with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

He was awarded the Carol Sibel Outstanding Fundraising Achievement Award in 2019.

Mr. Billig served on The Associated’s board of directors, executive committee and finance committee, and was chair of the cash mobilization committee.

A member of Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, he played golf two to three times a week for more than 50 years and cards at least once a week, his son said.

Mr. Billig was a well-known restaurant patron.

“Every Saturday night he and my mother were at The Prime Rib,” said his son, Daniel. “The rest of the week it would be the Bluestone, Linwoods and Joey Chiu’s."

Mr. Billig and his wife were recalled for their decades of patronage of The Prime Rib in Mount Vernon.

“They were never-fails for dinner,” said the restaurant’s manager, John Klaus. “He didn’t waste time ordering. He liked oysters on the half shell, the New York strip or Chilean sea bass.”

He was a lifetime member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

Mr. Billig enjoyed vacationing in Florida and international travel. He was a Baltimore Colts and Orioles season-ticket holder.

“His greatest pleasure was spending time with his family and many friends,” said his son.

In addition to his son and wife of 66 years, Janet Abell, a longtime Levindale Auxiliary member, survivors include his brother, Arnold Billig of Pikesville; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Two sons, Michael Billig and Andrew Billig, died in 2016.

Private funeral services were scheduled for Sunday at Beth Tfiloh Cemetery.

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