Harry W. Bass, Jr. Biography
By Leslie A. Elam
Harry Wesley Bass, Jr. was born on January 6, 1927, in Oklahoma City and was the first son of Wilma (Schuessler) and Harry Wesley Bass, Sr. His brother, Richard D. Bass, was born two years later. Harry's father was an adventurous driller and producer of oil and gas as well as a pipeline operator.
Harry Bass, Sr. was born in Enid, Oklahoma, in 1895, served in the 82nd Field Artillery during World War I, studied banking at the University of Oklahoma, and took a job in a bank. Soon thereafter, in 1919, he struck out for the oil fields during the early Texas boom days. By 1925, be had formed his first company, Champlin & Bass, oil operators and drilling contractors. In 1928, Bass, Sr. developed the first portable drilling mast, the A-frame derrick still in use today.
In 1932, the Bass business and family moved to Dallas, a city more centrally located for the management of the various companies created by Bass, Sr. that owned and developed oil and gas properties then spread across five southwestern states. He formed the Trinity Gas Corporation in 1939 and was one of the first entrepreneurs to build a natural gas recycling plant, a conservation operation that quickly proved a wise business decision. Other family companies included Can-Tex Drilling, Ltd., begun in 1941 for exploration in Alberta, Canada; Wilcox Trend Gathering System, a 150 million cubic-feet-per-day pipeline serving, South Texas; and Goliad Corp. for the construction and management of natural gas processing plants.
A generous supporter of scientific, religious, and educational institutions, Mr. Bass, Sr. established the Bass Foundation in 1945 for charitable purposes. Following the death of Wilma Bass in June 1963, the foundation, together with Harry Sr. and his sons, Harry Jr. and Dick, provided half of the $1 million construction fund to build the women's dormitory at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, containing the Wilma Bass Memorial Hall. Harry Bass, Sr. died in 1970.
From his arrival in Dallas in 1932, Harry Bass, Jr. called that city his home for the rest of his life. Summers often were spent at the family-owned Delmar Ranch, a spread on the Bosque River near Waco that eventually grew to be the largest working ranch in Central Texas. Following graduation from Texas Country Day School (now St. Mark's School of Texas) he briefly attended the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University.
Between "semesters" at SMU, he served for two years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, spending most of the time in the South Pacific. Soon after returning to Dallas, he married Mary Mathewson in 1947 and the couple immediately left for Calgary. They spent three years in Canada where Harry gained first-hand experience working for the family firm, Can-Tex. His progress was rapid; by the time he was 30, Harry was president of two corporations, H.W. Bass & Sons, Inc. and the Harry Bass Drilling Co., and a director of two others, the Great National Life Insurance Co. and the Texas Bank & Trust Co. Of interest, he was elected a junior director of Texas Bank in 1951 when he was only 24, becoming a full director in 1956. In 1960, Goliad Oil & Gas Co. was added to the list of family businesses, witnessing a shift from the emphasis on drilling and producing. As Harry noted at the time, "Our newest projects involve extraction of butane, propane and natural gasoline and then marketing these products. Our companies that handle these products are Goliad Oil & Gas Co. and Goliad Corporation. These interests range from Northern Canada to South Texas and Louisiana."
Unable to vote in the 1948 presidential election due to his Canadian residency, Harry took an active role in the 1952 Republican campaign that led to the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower to his first term. He attributed his interest in politics to "a deep-seated respect for conservative politics" gained from his close association with Bass, Sr., and to "a sincere desire to take a part in deciding what philosophy of government this country is to follow."
Early successes in raising money to support campaigns and promote Republican programs led to his appointment as precinct treasurer in North Dallas and a member of the Dallas County Finance Committee. Then, in January 1957, at age 30, he leapt over intermediate positions to be elected chairman of the Dallas County Republican Committee, considered "the most potent Republican organization in Texas and perhaps the South." At a time when computers were in their infancy, Harry developed computerized records of voters by precinct, including giving patterns. Often, he personally wrote the software to set up and run applications and even spent untold hours keying in the personal data himself.
Following his term as chairman, he continued to be active in the Republican Party as chairman of the Dallas County Republican Finance Committee and vicechairman of the Texas Republican Finance Committee, as well as state committeeman for Dallas County, in which capacity he attended the 1964 GOP convention in San Francisco.