Born 29 January 1824 in Keighley, Yorkshire, England
Died 30 November 1912 in New York (Manhattan), New York
Buried Woodlawn Cemetery and Conservancy, Bronx, New York
Elected 6 November 1880 at age fifty-six
The death of Robert Collyer marks the passing of a noble figure. His long career is known and honored by us all. Eighty-seven years of life [sic: eighty-eight]; well-nigh eighty of them years of labor commencing when the child of eight began work in a linen mill, which at fourteen he left for blacksmithing. He married; became a Methodist, and took to preaching; found things in his own land too straitened for him, and in 1850 emigrated with his wife to Pennsylvania; worked at hammer-making and preaching in Shoemakertown till 1859, when the Methodists would have no more of him because of heresy and abolition; next, called to Chicago for Unitarian mission work, he became minister of a little church. That little wooden church became a big stone church in 1867, as the man went on doing his Master’s work; he had also done it through certain bloodstained years in hospitals and on the battle-field. In 1879 came the call to the Church of the Messiah in New York; there he worked and preached with ever-growing talents and extending beneficence. Made Pastor Emeritus in 1893, he still worked on, though his threescore years and ten began to slow down his activity. Thereafter the energy that was in him turned to study and quiet thought, till at the end came quiet death.
He was one of the great preachers of the last generation, when preachers—Phillips Brooks, Bellows, Beecher, Storrs,—compelled and moulded men. Strong and sweet; positive and sensitive; sympathizing with the literate and the illiterate, the poor and rich; gifted with a power of direct and homely speech,—loving, kindly, ardent, untiring, a personality in the pulpit, on the platform, in the drawing-room. We Centurions shall not forget the sturdy old man with his grand face and thick white hair, as he might be seen any afternoon these last few years, in an armchair of the room below us, reading, musing, looking still ahead.
Henry Osborn Taylor
1913 Century Association Yearbook