Professor Robert James Richey

Source: Vertical Files, Herman Brown Free Library

Typed for the Burnet Web site by volunteer, Mary Nell Hodnett, Nov. 2000


By Mrs. Lucille G. O'Donnell

 

Robert James Richey was born in Virginia on 18 December, 1850, and he died in Austin, Texas on 14 June, 1920, buried in Burnet, Texas. He came to Texas after graduating from Washington and Lee University while Robert E. Lee was president of that institution. Richey was an honor student, receiving his BA and MA degrees from that institution. Among Professor Richey's treasures was a letter of Commendation written by General Lee. Richey also served as an Honorary Pallbearer at General Lee's funeral. So great was his admiration of General lee that he tried to emulate him in thought, in word and in deed. His great aim in life was the advancement of opportunity for young people. His last words were said to be "stand by the boys".

Robert James Richey, always known as Professor, came to Burnet county in 1888, where he began to teach in the Burnet school. The school at that time was a wooden building of a few rooms, but the curriculum consisted of algebra, physiology, physical geography, english, history, latin, geometry, physics, government, chemistery [chemistry], and music. He became superintendant [superintendent] of the Burnet school in 1890 and served in that capicity [capacity] until 1404 [1904?], when he organized a private school which lasted until 1918 when Richey retired because of poor health. After his retirement he moved to Austin where he served on the Texas State Board of Education until his death in 1920.

Professor Richey was a tall stately gentleman with red hair and red beard, he had the most wonderful vocabulary and the most melodious speaking voice that this writer ever heard, and the most beautiful orator, he could hold you spell bound in every speach [speech] that he made. While attending his school in 1914 he once told me that General Lee said to him, "Richey you write the finest hand that I ever saw, it is so fine that I can not read it". His handwriting was very plain and excellent, but it was very small and in our Burnet County Library there are books with his signature in them that will show what General Lee meant.

At the age of 84 as I write this I can plainly hear him admonishing the students that he had to take advantage of every opportunity that you have to further your education. He was probably the most colorful and influential educator Burnet County ever had and the one who perhaps had a greater influence on those who attended his school or the Burnet High School before he left in 1904. His influence was not only in the town of Burnet but it reached to many other counties and even other states. He was instrumental in publishing the first school catalog and saw that it reached ambitious young people since there were few schools in the area when he became superintendant [superintendent]. He spent his summers in soliciting students as his desire was to make Burnet school an institution of opportunities. In the Catalog of 1892-1893 there were 381 pupils in the school and 151 were nonresidents. Most of the nonresidents were from adjoining towns and communities in the county including Marble Falls, Bertram, Briggs, Spicewood, and Lake Victor, but many other counties were represented including Mississippi, and Mexico. In the nonresident list, Llano led with 9 pupils, other towns listed were Houston, San Antonio, El Paso and Temple. Other counties represented were Bell, Travis, Williamson, Brown, Gillespe, Crockett, Coryell and Commanche.

Professor Richey opened school in the fall of 1904 and graduated nine students that year. Among those nine one became a minister, one an outstanding doctor of medicine, one a well known lawyer, four women in the class all became teachers and the remaining two men, this writer does not know what profession or occupation they followed. Among the hundreds of students that were graduated while Professor Richey was either superintendent of the Burnet School and the R. E. Lee private school, many became men and women of integrity and learning. Many were doctors, some music teachers of note, some presidents of colleges and other places of service in political and civic fields. His influence was widely felt even to this day and has had the record of being one of the most colorful figures in the educational field in Burnet county.

In the year 1900 when Professor Richey was still at the helm of the high school the game of football was first played. At that time school colors were chosen as Kelly green and white and the adopted mascot was the bulldog. Today 81 years later these colors and this mascot continues to be the school colors and mascot.

Upon the death of this colorful educator in Austin in 1920, he was brought to Burnet for burial and was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Throngs of his former students attended his funeral and soon after these admirers of his saw to it that a fitting monument be erected over the burial site. At a later date his wife, the former Mary Jimmie Mize, who was born on 6 October in 1864, she died on 8 March 1948 and was buried by his side in the Burnet Cemetery. Other memorials included shrubs being placed at the Methodist church were he attended and upon the founding of a public library in Burnet in 1949 a shelf of books was placed by his children in his memory.

Professor Richey's life ended but his influence is still living on in many places. Gone but not forgotten could easily be the epitaph that will ever be the thought of every person whose life he touched.

 

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