The National Cathedral that Carson Bass Lutes (née Harriet Bass, NCS ’60) and her family remember and love still is neither solely a structure nor a mission but a place of majesty—lit from within. With their parents, W. Streeter and Rita Schwep Bass, these next-generation friends are loyal Cathedral builders. As avid supporters of the music and social justice advocacy that give the building its purpose and broader reach, they are also committed to sustaining it. She and her brother Charlie, who attended Beauvoir and St. Albans schools, shared some of their most special recollections during lunch at Sayre House on a trip back to Washington that included a visit to the Cathedral.
The siblings’ memory of the Cathedral stretches back to childhood in the Fort Sumner neighborhood of Northwest Washington, D.C., where the injustice of segregation and the courage of the Civil Rights movement made a profound impression. Dean Francis B. Sayre’s commitment through word and action to speaking up for racial equality was an inspiration to the whole family, including Carson and Charlie. The family originally hails from Maine but moved over the years to posts as far afield as Berlin, where Mr. Bass worked for the CIA. The Cathedral became a mainstay of the family’s life, a place for deep reflection that she considers her spiritual home.
Carson especially remembers her wedding in 1965, a year after she graduated from Chatham College. The groom, Tim Little, was the grandson of Harry Britton Little, a partner in the architectural firm of Frohman, Robb, and Little responsible for the Cathedral’s final design. The couple’s first date, at Carson’s request, had been to see the Cathedral at night. The wedding took place at night as well, and as it so happened the bells pealed the last time at an evening Cathedral wedding. Carson fondly recalls Richard Wayne Dirksen, organist and choirmaster at the time, who performed a wedding march that had been written by composer Heinrich Gebhardt especially for Harry B. Little’s own wedding many decades before. One of Carson’s favorite spots in the Cathedral to this day is Children’s Chapel, where two of her children were baptized. It too is a design by Little in addition to Bethlehem Chapel, the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, and the Cathedral College. “The charm of the beautifully rendered animals and flowers, along with the tiny child-size chairs, create a space both intimate and joyful,” she commented. “It is truly a spiritual gem.” Carson also has vivid memories of Cold War–era air raid drills in St. Joseph’s, reputed at the time to be one of the safest places in Washington.
Singing in the NCS Glee Club, directed by Dirksen, gave Carson her start in a lifetime of musical experiences and appreciation. By now, she has studied voice and song in numerous oratorio and church choirs. One of her fondest memories, however, was participating in a performance of the Berlioz Requiem in the Cathedral. This stupendous work utilized a full orchestra, double chorus, two brass bands, and the boy choir. This amazing occasion, Carson says, “was an unforgettably exciting spiritual experience in the Cathedral that I will always cherish.” As a junior chorister, Charlie too benefited from the musical exposure he acquired in the Cathedral. His love for sacred and classical music has sustained him during his lifetime to this day.
In 1979, the Bass family donated a memorial stone in an impressive archway leading to the Cathedral’s west balcony, above Churchill Porch, in memory of their late sister Priscilla. Currently Carson and Charlie have attempted to continue the family tradition of supporting the Cathedral exemplified by their mother, Rita, who was passionate in her love of the Cathedral. Because of the many family connections and memorable events spanning four generations, Carson says, “I am tempted to call it my personal Cathedral! But then I realize there are thousands who also have been deeply touched by this magnificent edifice. It is up to everyone who feels this way to give back whatever we can to keep its light shining forever, for all of us.”
Join Carson in becoming a member of the Cathedral Founder’s Society! To learn more about how an IRA gift, bequest, living trust, or other estate plan can help the Cathedral—and benefit you—send an email to Marilyn Kochan at [email protected] or simply call (202) 537-5747.