When I arrived at DC Water, I was told that an employee named Gus Bass led the city’s transition from wooden mains to iron. While that was an exaggeration, Gus did begin serving long before we were DC Water or even DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA). Gus became a permanent employee with the Authority on August 25, 1958; he was Employee #00002. Given his incredible longevity, it feels a bit surreal to communicate that after 59 years of service, Gus Bass retired on January 29, 2016.
Perhaps his longevity is best appreciated when considered in the context of American history. When Gus joined the District Department of Sanitary Engineering (DSE) it was during the Eisenhower administration. Through all of the change, turmoil and progress in American society, Gus was here. Pause for a moment and think about that. Through the advent of color television, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first moon landing, Vietnam, Watergate, and the dawn of cell phones, computers and the Internet, Gus was here serving District ratepayers.
Gus was originally hired by the DSE – a forerunner of DC Water – as a Field Car Driver, and was happy to be earning a little more than $62 per week. “I was in a four-person survey team,” he recalled. “Every day our job was to stake out proposed sewer lines and address impediments adjacent to the proposed lines. We would mark the lines for future use.”
One of the many impressive things we learned about Gus at his farewell celebration was that he had been an exceptional athlete in his youth, which prepared him well for the physical work at the Authority. He told us, “Working outdoors kept me fit and gave me a sense of freedom. I absolutely loved it and was crushed when I was reassigned to indoor duty.”
But indoors is where Gus really made his mark at the Authority and his accomplishments extend far beyond engineering and even the water utility industry. When I reflect on his career, I think of a man who entered public service before the civil rights movement who then went on to launch and administer a program that ensured DC Water developed business relationships with qualified and diverse partners. His work in this regard was trailblazing and provided an economic lifeline to thousands of deserving women and minority-owned small businesses and contractors. Gus didn’t just award contracts, he mentored. He changed lives. I can’t think of a finer legacy.
In all, Mr. Bass recommended contracts totaling billions of dollars in value, including many millions of dollars to women and minority-owned firms. “To some extent, I think this opened new economic possibilities for deserving businesses,” he said. “I found this to be very rewarding work and I met some great people.”
It has been an honor to serve alongside Gus, affectionately called the ‘Mayor of DC Water.’ I know that the Board and the rest of Team Blue join me in congratulating Gus on a remarkable career and thanking him for a lifetime of committed service.