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Robert Peele


Centurion, 1903–1942

Born 15 July 1858 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Died 8 December 1942 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Buried Bloomfield Cemetery, Bloomfield, New Jersey

Proposed by Frank Dempster Sherman and Frederick R. Hutton

Elected 3 October 1903 at age forty-five

Century Memorial

In the ’seventies, when a college degree was not yet a commonplace, Robert Peele—a slender, serious youngster with a high forehead—employed at four dollars a week in a wholesale grocery concern in New York, his native city, decided that he wanted to have a college education. He announced his “retirement” to one of the junior partners, who said, “Robert, you are making a great mistake. It will take you seven or eight years to prepare yourself for college and take the college course. If you stay with us you will by that time be making twelve or fifteen dollars a week. Think it over carefully.” Having carried out a methodical plan of financing and study, Peele was graduated from the School of Mines in ’83, and went on to become an authority on mining engineering. He taught at the School for thirty-three years; he had the confidence of financiers who sent him to the ends of the earth to appraise mining properties; by means of laborious revisions he kept his encyclopedic “Mining Engineer’s Handbook” up to date; from Columbia University and from the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America he received gold medals for distinguished engineering service.

Of all the academic members of the Century, Robert Peele, with his high white collar and his formal and deliberate habit of speech, was the one most likely to be addressed by his acquaintances as “Professor.” Yet he played an active role in an elaborate practical joke perpetrated at a meeting of the austere Committee on Admissions when he was its secretary. His narratives of travel in South Africa and in the Andes were often thrilling but never brought out, as do many such yarns, the heroism of the narrator. A tale of a different sort was that of Rudyard Kipling enthusiastically explaining to another poet Centurion the fine points of a fishing-schooner model built and rigged for him by a retired Gloucester fisherman while Kipling was at work on “Captains Courageous.” Peele once remarked that his great-grandfather, a British government officer, had his home in the Tower of London and that his grandfather was born there. A neighbor at the Long Table made the comment that Peele’s great-grandmother was not the only lady of distinction to be confined in the Tower.

Several times a week, Peele would arrive at the club house in midafternoon, pick up a detective or mystery story and sit reading in the farther corner of the west room. He kept two or three going at a time in order that, if someone had forestalled him, he might always have at least one to read. He would close the book when a billiard player sent for him to come down and play. (“I got to know him first,” says a crony of his, “in the billiard room where I found, to my delight, the atmosphere of undergraduate days. We billiardists are a little more sedate than the pool contingent, but both are sufficiently indecorous. I played constantly with Peele. He was a good player, with a zest for the game, and during the nearly forty years of his membership had played with a succession of the best billiardists in the Century: it was kind of him to take on a duffer like myself.”) A few minutes before Tom Marshall smote the chimes for the Century Ordinary, Peele and his opponent would rack their cues and, with the three conventional pauses, mount to the dining-room. After lingering with his friends at the Long Table until about nine o’clock, he was ready to start for home. He bequeathed $10,000, a fifth of his estate, to the Century.

Geoffrey Parsons
1942 Century Memorials