Dallas oilman Richard “Dick” Bass, a globetrotting adventurer and businessman, died Sunday night at his home of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 85.
His sprawling interests ranged from ranching in Central Texas to coal leases in Alaska and Wyoming, but in business, he was best known as the co-founder and longtime owner of the Snowbird resort in Utah.
On April 30, 1985, Bass put his name indelibly in the history books when he reached the summit of Mount Everest. It was the last leg of his Seven Summits challenge and the realization of his dream to be the first man to climb the highest peak on every continent.
At 55, he was also the oldest man then to climb Everest.
The feat was chronicled in the book Seven Summits, written by Bass and climbing partner Frank Wells and professional climber Rick Ridgeway.
“He was an epic Texan, filled with unbridled enthusiasm and perfection,” said Harry M. Whittington, 88, who met Bass in 1950 when they lived in the same apartment building. Whittington, a lawyer, began to represent Bass and members of his family, an attorney-client relationship that lasted more than 60 years.
What may be most impressive about Bass ascending Mount Everest, Whittington said, is that he did so after three unsuccessful attempts. Such resilience and determination should be a lesson for all of us, his friend said.
“Everything he did was complete. He didn’t leave anything unfinished. He just ran out of time on some things.”
Bob Bonar, 64, who worked with Bass for 45 years at Snowbird, said of him: “When it comes to Richard D. Bass, they broke the mold. He was an oilman, a rancher, a ski resort owner and a developer, who for some reason gets out of bed one day and decides to trade in his cowboy boots for climbing boots. He packed a lot into one lifetime.”
Barbara Moroney, wife of Jim Moroney, publisher and chief executive officer of The Dallas Morning News, said her father “lived larger than life” and “gave to each of us the curiosity and confidence to follow our dreams. We learned to jump out of our comfort zones ... to build a resilience and a confidence that we could do things that were unfamiliar and uncharted.”
Bonnie Smith said her father was reciting poetry and “words of wisdom” up until his final moments. “We all went on this journey with him, and it was a beautiful experience to have.”
Explaining his love of adventure, Bass once said that “I am not super-strong, not super-smart and not super-courageous, but I am super-curious and super-enthusiastic.”
A member of a blue-blood Dallas family (unrelated to the Basses of Fort Worth), Bass and his brother, Harry W. Bass Jr., expanded the fortune begun by their oilman father, Harry Sr.
A Highland Park High School graduate, Bass was a 16-year-old freshman when he entered Yale to study geology. At 19, he climbed the Matterhorn.
After taking regular family vacations in Aspen, Colo., Bass and his brother purchased stock in the ski resort. In 1964, they bought part of a new Colorado ski area called Vail and increased their holdings until they had a controlling interest.
The Vail investment would eventually make Bass the landlord of the president of the United States. In August 1974, Gerald Ford, an avid skier, was thrust into the presidency by the resignation of Richard Nixon. The Secret Service declared that it could not secure his condo at the Lodge at Vail. Bass offered to vacate his large ski home and turn it over to the president. Ford accepted. Also a swimmer, Ford famously added an outdoor pool at the White House. To accommodate the president’s swimming regimen, Bass added an indoor pool at the Vail house.
In addition to their Vail holdings, Bass and his brother were instrumental in developing the Beaver Creek resort nearby.
In 1970, Bass and partner Ted Johnson began construction of the Snowbird ski area in Utah. In 1974, Bass bought out Johnson’s interest.
Jim Bass said his father’s “overarching purpose in life” was to build a community “where people could commune with nature. He manifested that by developing [Snowbird], which became his dream for people to enjoy the great alpine mountains.
“He wanted to build dwellings where humans could gather together and commune with nature to develop their body, mind and spirit. But it was really spirit. Dad was all about spirit. It was his boundless enthusiasm and curiosity and energy that was driven toward a purpose of celebrating the human spirit.”
In recent years, respiratory difficulties made it difficult for Bass to travel to high altitude and visit Snowbird. But in June 2014, he went to Salt Lake City where Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert declared Dick Bass Day in the Capitol Rotunda in honor of Bass’ contributions to the state. Also in 2014, Bass and his family sold controlling interest in Snowbird to Ian Cumming and his family, owner-operators of the Park City ski resort.
A lover of art and literature, Bass filled every available space at his University Park home with his vast art collection. He climbed Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, while reciting Kipling’s “Gunga Din” from memory.
Jim Bass said his father’s life was transformed by his fifth-grade poetry teacher. “What she left with him was the sense that life is much, much more than the material. It is all about one’s endeavors into new things and learning and a love of the human condition.”
Bass is survived by his wife, Alice, and his children, Dan Bass, Bonnie Smith, Barbara Moroney and Jim Bass, and 13 grandchildren.