Fort Worth Philanthropist Nancy Lee Bass Dies at 95

Matriarch of Bass family passes away after brief illness

By Chris Van Horne
|  Friday, Mar 1, 2013  |  Updated 7:26 PM CDT
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Nancy Lee Bass, philanthropist and matriarch of Fort Worth's leading family died Thursday night a week before her 96th birthday.

Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 Fort Worth Reporter

Nancy Lee Bass, philanthropist and matriarch of Fort Worth's leading family died Thursday night a week before her 96th birthday.

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Nancy Lee Bass, philanthropist and matriarch of Fort Worth's leading family, has died a week before her 96th birthday.

Family spokesperson Terrell Lamb confirmed Bass died at her Fort Worth home on Thursday night. Longtime family friend and attorney Dee J. Kelly Sr. told the Associated Press that Bass died after a brief illness.

Lamb released the following statement on behalf of the sons of Nancy Lee Muse Bass:

"Our mother passed away last night peacefully in her home, seven days shy of her 96th birthday. Her life spanned ten decades of exceptional love, affection and joy. We were blessed to have shared in such a long and rich life, and we know she would want us to express to all our friends her gratitude for their friendship to her family over the years."

The Basses four sons -- Sid, Ed, Bob and Lee -- have lavished funds on Fort Worth's artistic, cultural and educational institutions for years. They've also bought up and redeveloped much of downtown Fort Worth into one of the most vibrant city centers in Texas.

Bass' death comes just a day after family friend and another Fort Worth icon Van Cliburn passed away. Perry Bass, nephew and heir to the oil fortune of famed Fort Worth wildcatter Sid Richardson, died in 2006 at age 91.

One of Fort Worth's most iconic downtown buildings is named for the Bass family, Nancy Lee & Perry Bass Performance Hall. Nancy Lee leaves behind more than just a building though, but a legacy of giving back to the community.

"Nancy Lee was Fort Worth and we will miss her," said Pat Schutts, director of development for Bass Hall's children program. "She liked people, she liked being involved and she loved Fort Worth."

Nancy Lee and Perry were known for their charity, the biggest example of which was the $50 million they gave to various charities on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1991.

"That's what you call giving back," said former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief. "And then they also gave us four wonderful sons who each, who in their own way, have contributed so greatly to this city."

Just last year, Ed Bass was on hand to celebrate the ground breaking of several new buildings in Sundance Square, which the Bass family helped revitalize over the last few decades. Ed Bass helped organize and finally build what opened as Bass Hall in 1998, but it was named for Nancy Lee and Perry by family friend and international Fort Worth musical legend Van Cliburn. In a meeting, Schutts says before the hall was even organized Cliburn said it must be named for Nancy Lee and Perry.

"And how appropriate that those two friends are now together," Moncrief said, nothing both of their passing.

The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame building also bears her name. Bass also received the first ever Gloria Lupton Tennison Pioneer Award in 1999 for her work in the community.

"I don't know if you could go to a museum or a cultural institution or any institution in Fort Worth and not find her foot print," said Patricia Riley, executive director of the museum and hall of fame.

Nancy Lee Bass sat on numerous boards, serving three decades as vice president and director of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation. She also served on the boards of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Smithsonian Institution National Council and the advisory board of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, Fort Worth. It is work many people in Fort Worth might not be aware of.

"And she wasn't big on being on camera, talking to reporters, or certainly for taking credit for doing anything," Moncrief said. "Her benevolence and her heart spoke for her and the millions and millions of dollars that she and Perry contributed to so many organizations."

And so, for those that knew her well, Nancy Lee Bass' loss is a big one, but her contributions to Fort Worth will never be forgotten.

"We are just so blessed to have had that family, to still have that family," Schutts said.

"She'll be greatly missed," Riley said. "I don't even have the words to talk about her legacy."

"The beneficiary is the city and all who live here for generations," Moncrief said.

The family says a memorial service has not yet been announced. The family is suggesting those wishing to make donations to so to the Bass Hall children's program or the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. The symphony orchestra released the following statement on Friday:

"All of us at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra mourn the passing of Mrs. Nancy Lee Bass today. She and her husband Mr. Perry R. Bass were extraordinary philanthropists who contributed in countless ways to the city, and particularly, its performing arts community. Over their lifetime, Nancy Lee and Perry were remarkably generous to the FWSO, and in 1998, gave us the greatest gift we could ever imagine with the exquisite Bass Performance Hall. We will be forever grateful."

Governor Rick Perry also released a statement regarding Bass' death:

"The generosity of Nancy Lee Bass touched the lives of countless people in Fort Worth, throughout Texas and across the nation. As the matriarch of a legendary Texas family, she all too often found herself in the spotlight, when she vastly preferred quietly giving generously to the causes she and her late husband, Perry Bass, believed in. Texas has suffered the loss of a true philanthropist. Anita joins me in offering our deepest condolences to her sons, her extended family and her many, many friends across the state."

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