Barbara Bass: Taking the Stairs in Tyler, TX
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
In 2012, the city of Tyler began an initiative of creating a more beautiful place by planting trees throughout the area. Introduced by the mayor, this Tyler Trees proposal wanted to plant 5,000 trees over the following 5 years, an effort that received the collaboration of the entire community. Tree events were held, a tree planting day was created, students at the local schools donated their lunch money to plant more trees, and together, Tyler planted 5,000 trees 2 years before the planned goal. Such a successful plan to enhance and extend the natural beauty of Tyler can be attributed to the woman who organized the initiative: former mayor Barbara Bass.
Ms. Bass graduated from Longview High School and attended Kilgore College before pursuing an accounting degree from Texas A&M Commerce. The political nature of her upbringing was rather mild with Ms. Bass’ first encounter with politics being while she was in college. It was a family friend’s US Congressional campaign in the 1970’s that captured her attention and pushed her along the political path she walks today. As a college student, being introduced to the grassroots process of campaigning - and the activities that included - was exciting and intriguing. Ultimately, her candidate lost in the runoff, but Ms. Bass’ interest only increased. Her passion for politics took off as she began volunteering more in her community, and meeting more people opened her eyes to the change that was not only needed, but possible in her hometown of Tyler. Because of the people- centered nature of her job, Ms. Bass has the unique opportunity to meet people and better understand what the community wants. Through her involvement with the chamber of commerce, professional CPA associations, the Better Business Bureau, and in combination with her accounting career, Ms. Bass gradually began “showing up” and participating at community events and government meetings. “Virtually no women were involved” at this point in the city of Tyler politics; as her involvement in the local government increased, Ms. Bass’ efforts were recognized by the men (who were generally more in charge) and then began to promote her to more substantial position. It was in 2007 that the then- mayor was about to term out of office, that Ms. Bass’ personal life and CPA work would not interfere with her being in a governmental office, and that her presence in the community was polished. These elements combined to create the perfect opportunity for Ms. Bass to run for office. This election was one for the books - it was Ms. Bass’ first experience running as a candidate, and it was Tyler’s first time electing a female to the position of mayor.
When asked about the campaign process, Ms. Bass says it was unexpected but she was not ill- prepared. As a known CPA in Tyler, her credentials as a professional were established, and because of her involvement with other campaigns in town, the circle she describes as vital to any campaign was firmly settled and ready to support her. The work was hard, but “you have to take the stairs, not the elevator” when campaigning; it may not be the easiest way to get to the top, but the journey up will expose and verify to constituents the character of a hard worker. Exactly was the case of Barbara Bass whose ascent to the first female Mayor of Tyler was one that proved she could handle the job - for two terms. Ms. Bass was the sitting mayor between 2008- 2014, where she prioritized the essentials of a great city (long term water supplies, public safety, sewage systems, infrastructure, natural resources), where she returned power to “we the people” by listening to the residents, and where she united the entire community of more than just the city of Tyler, but the community of Smith county. The strategic initiative, “Tyler First,” was implemented just before Ms. Bass came into office and offered her an advantage as mayor. “Tyler First” asked the residents of Tyler where their values were placed, which projects they found to be the most important, and what people loved about living in Tyler. Ms. Bass was aware of the newest vision in Tyler as spoken by the people, and the initiative revealed the elements of what people wanted out of their community. The community answered some questions like, “Why would a person or business want to move to Tyler? What makes this place great and what would make it better?” A tuned ear to the expressions of the people is just one of many factors that made Ms. Bass an above- average leader.
As a woman engaged in politics in East Texas, it is often wondered how influential, successful women arrived at where they are. Ms. Bass explained the barriers she faced as a woman in politics as almost imaginary because she was never on guard for ways she could be held back. “If someone said I couldn’t do something, that just meant that I couldn’t do it the way they wanted me to do it.” Ms. Bass goes on to say that false evidence may appear real, she says, but women should never be repressed by self- imposed limitations, and part of that is assuming we do not belong, are not qualified enough, are not old enough, are too old, do not have enough experience, or do not have enough to offer. These ideas may be supported by fear or even the doubts of others, but Ms. Bass encourages all women, regardless of age, experience or background, to get involved, “show up”, build a network, and don’t be afraid of mistakes. “America’s beauty is not where we start, but where we finish.”