Nancy Lee Bass, 95, eulogized as philanthropic 'queen' of Fort Worth

Posted Saturday, Mar. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- In the same grand performance hall that bears her name, friends, family and community members said goodbye Saturday to Nancy Lee Bass, the "first lady of Fort Worth" and matriarch of the city's most prominent family.

Mrs. Bass died at her home Feb. 28. She was 95.

Hundreds of mourners filled the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall to recall her legacy and philanthropy, but also the Fort Worth woman's humility and graciousness.

"Nancy Lee would have preferred to be remembered as a loving wife and mother to her four sons," said Dee Kelly, an attorney long associated with the family who eulogized Mrs. Bass. "But we all know she meant so much more to so many, and most of all to the citizens of Fort Worth."

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra played the Star-Spangled Banner and selections from Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, From the New World, the same music it performed 15 years ago at the hall's widely-anticipated opening.

Speaking for the family, Perry R. Bass II, Nancy Lee's grandson, thanked those in attendance and read the poem, "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World."

Mrs. Bass died just one day after the death of her close friend and next-door neighbor, acclaimed pianist Van Cliburn. It was Cliburn who first suggested naming the $65 million performance hall, now a city landmark building, after the philanthropic couple.

Recently, a friend disclosed to Kelly that Cliburn had always planned to precede Mrs. Bass.

"He wanted to be the first to go so he could be there to open the door for Nancy," Kelly said.

Nancy Lee Bass was born March 7, 1917, to Ewell H. Muse and Roberta Maddox Muse in Fort Worth.

She learned to love classical music while growing up and taking piano lessons. She graduated from Central High School (now Paschal) before attending the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated in 1937 with a degree in English.

She met Wichita Falls oilman Perry Bass at a dance in Fort Worth, and they married at the First Methodist Church in 1941.

Perry Bass turned his early oil field ventures with his uncle, Sid Richardson, into diversified investments that that today are valued in the billions of dollars. Perry Bass frequently credited his wife with raising their four sons -- Sid Richardson Bass, Edward Perry Bass, Robert Muse Bass and Lee Marshall Bass --who have carried on their legacy of community involvement and support of the arts, education, human services and healthcare through the donation of millions of dollars.

Dr. Barry Bailey, who also gave a eulogy, recalled a now legendary story of Nancy and Perry Bass' 50th wedding anniversary in 1991. Perry asked Nancy what she wanted for their 50th wedding anniversary, and she said she wanted to give $50 million away. The two sat down and chose various charities, from Lena Pope Home to First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth.

Bailey, who was the church's pastor at the time, asked the couple for permission to use some of the donation to install bells in the church's tower. The Bass' happily agreed.

"For a fleeting moment," Bailey said, "when that melodious sound of those bells permeates our city, we are all brought together."

Bailey said Mrs. Bass' work and philanthropy can be seen across the city, at museums, hospitals and schools. Yet she shied away from attention, accolades and titles.

"She was the first lady of Fort Worth," he added. "Should we have had royalty in our city, she would have been our queen. Of course, she would have just laughed at that."

Randy and DeeDee McCoy, of Fort Worth, did not personally know Mrs. Bass but attended the service to celebrate her legacy and pay their respects. They frequently visit museums she supported and attend shows at Bass Hall.

"We are inspired," Randy McCoy said. "We can count our blessings in Fort Worth because of her contributions."

The family suggests that donations in her memory be made to the Children's Education Program of Bass Performance Hall or to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

Besides her four sons, Mrs. Bass is survived by 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw

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