After 64 years of marriage, three children, nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and unbelievable charitable giving, philanthropic couple Gladys and Lewis “Sonny” Bass can teach us all a thing or two not only about how to make a relationship last, but how to be good people.
At Sonny’s request to honor his long-time love, we sat down to discuss their passion for family, how Gladys spoils Sonny and – a topic unavoidable with these two – the Louisville Cardinals.
How did you meet?
Sonny considers their meeting at the Netherland Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati as “God’s will.”
“It was ‘the’ hotel at the time,” Gladys explained.
“When I came out of the service, I thought I wanted to finish my education at Miami of Ohio. One Saturday, three of my buddies and I decided to go into Cincinnati. We were gonna go see a movie,” Sonny recalled. “Instead of walking on the street, I told them about a shortcut going through the Netherland Plaza. As I was cutting through, I saw a good friend of mine. He had a very pretty girl with him – my (future) wife. He introduced me and, as we left, I commented to my buddies how pretty she was. As we walked away, he told her that by the time she was home, she’d have a call from me.”
Sonny’s friend hit the nail on the head. He called her soon after that first encounter and a year-long courtship involving trips between Lexington, where Gladys lived, and Louisville followed.
“She was a great sport,” explained Sonny of Gladys’ willingness to watch all of his sporting events during their courtship.
“She was a great pal and my best friend. I mean, I couldn’t get anyone else to go to all those games,” he joked.
“We had to get married. That’s it,” Sonny joked. “No. I felt – maybe she did too – a foregone conclusion that we were destined to be together.”
Gladys went a bit more into the details.
“We were sitting in the car outside my sister’s apartment and he proposed. But he said, ‘Don’t tell your sister though ‘cause I haven’t told my folks.’ ”
They soon told his folks, who were thrilled.
How do you make it work on a day-to-day basis?
“Stay out of each other’s hair,” said Sonny. “We’ve always done that. We respect each other’s privacy.”
They’ve always trusted each other. Even today, they don’t open each other’s mail.
“You saw his room; that’s all him,” said Gladys, referring to Sonny’s personal den. Almost a shrine to his dedication to the University of Louisville, it features dozens of framed photographs documenting his relationships with U of L players and coaches, as well as additions to the university he and Gladys have funded.
“Wait, wait, wait. Time out,” objected Sonny. “Nope, she’s right.”
“I spoil him too much,” said Gladys.
Where do you like to go when you’re out ‘n’ about?
“We eat,” Sonny said.
They love restaurants like Majid’s and Volare, and used to frequent Standard Country Club every Thursday with other couples.
“Of course, we always wait for a call from our sons to invite us out,” Sonny hinted about his two sons who live in town.
What is one thing you always do as a couple?
Family is hugely important to these two.
“With children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, any occasion that we can find, we throw a party,” Sonny said. “Also, it’s always been of prime importance to us to attend all the functions they have.”
They’ve also taken incredible trips with the family. Sonny explained that they’ve been all over the world.
But they make time for good causes as well.
“People don’t realize – with your children and your giving – you really get back more than you give. It is so pleasurable to us to be with our children, and the same thing is true for charities,” Sonny said.
Among countless other donations, in 2007, the Basses gave $1 million to fund the Gladys and Lewis “Sonny” Bass Louisville Scholar House Campus at U of L.
“I had a young lady call me this past week and thank me. She had lived at Scholar House and was graduating. She said it was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to her,” recalled Gladys with a smile.
What is some advice you would offer couples – new or old – who desire to walk through life in tandem?
“You must always have a good sense of humor and never make big problems out of small problems,” Sonny said. “Always feel that your mate is just as important as your self. Say and show your love to your mate, your family and friends – have love in your heart. Be charitable.
“But she’s such a great person, it’s never been a question. Any time we go anywhere, she’s always been my main concern.”
“It’s give and take; you have to be understanding,” added Gladys.
When things go wrong, or you have a fight, “just take the blame and move on,” said Sonny.
“Have inside jokes. Be able to laugh at yourselves and each other.”
“Never yell at each other,” advised Gladys.
Oct. 20, 1946
The Basses have three sons: Mitchel lives in Florida and Ned and Stephen live in Louisville. Mitchel has three children: Richard, Nikki and Jason. Ned has three children: Heather, Jodie and Ben, and three grandchildren: Henri, Lillia and Isabel. Stephen has three children: Joel, Anna and Elle.
Now retired, Sonny was in real estate (Bass & Weisberg Realtors) and helped found Humana.
Cats or Cards
Cards. There’s no question with this couple. Sonny describes U of L as his second love.
Category: In Tandem