ELDER RICHARD BYRD BURLESON, A. M., LL. D. This distinguished divine and educator was truly one of the fathers of Waco Association. He was of the same Burleson family whose name is so honorably linked with the early history of Texas, and his mother, Elizabeth Byrd, was the grand-daughter of Sir William Byrd, who founded Richmond and Lynchburg, Virginia.
He was born near Decatur, Ala., January 1, 1822. He was educated in the University of Nashville, Tenn., graduating in 1843. He was converted April 18, 1839, and was baptized three days afterwards into the fellowship of Mount Pisgah church by Rev. W. H. Holcomb.
He was licensed to preach in 1841 by the First Baptist church at Nashville, under the pastorate of Rev. Dr. R. B. C. Howell.
He was ordained November, 1842, by the Athens church, two years later accepted the call of the church at Tuscumbia, Ala., and continued till 1849, when he became president of Moulton Female Institute, Ala., remaining six years. In December, 1855, he came to Texas and opened the female school at Austin, and became pastor of the Baptist church in that city.
He was chosen professor of natural science in Baylor University at Independence in 1857. He labored in this important position with characteristic zeal, ability and fidelity. In 1861 he was chosen vice president of Waco University and professor of natural sciences. He adorned this position for eighteen years, till the day of his death, December 21, 1879. He was a power, both in Baylor University at Independence and Waco University at Waco. He labored much to organize in the bounds of Waco Association. His only failing was too great modesty, something almost unknown in these degenerate days. He was pastor at different times of the following churches: Sunset, near Marlin; Pleasant Grove, Greenwood and Robinson. He and his brother, Rufus Burleson, in order to have a clear division of labor, agreed that Richard Burleson should devote all his time and energy that could be spared from Waco University to building up Waco Association, while his brother Rufus C. was to take a broader field, the whole state of Texas, and visit all the Associations and all the great cities. However, after having done a glorious work, his health becoming feeble, he found it important to confine his whole labor to Waco University. In 1874, the whole state of Texas felt that her geological resources had been shamefully overlooked, and at the earnest request of Governor Coke and other distinguished Texans, he consented to become state geologist. But finding he was so much needed in the University, and having located the vast beds of coal and marble in Texas, he resigned after one year. On December 21, 1879, this eminent servant of God and of Texas passed away. He endured his long and patient illness with eminent Christian resignation. He spent his last hours with his family and his devoted brother Rufus.
On the day he died he had his brother read to him the words of our blessed Savior, where he says: “I am the resurrection and the life,” and also the 23d Pslam, “The Lord is my shepherd,” etc. He asked his brother to pray that every cloud might pass away, and that by faith he might stand on Pisgah’s top and view the promised land with no cloud intervening. And while all were kneeling by his bedside praying, he exclaimed, “Praise the Lord; every cloud has disappeared, and I stand on the Mount and see the glory world. I hear my blessed Savior saying, ‘I will be with you.’ ” And when the last moment came, with heaven beaming on his countenance, with a moan or struggle, he passed away. His pastor, Rev. B. H. Carroll, conducted the funeral services, and afterwards penned these words:
“Thus lived, and toiled, and suffered and prayed and died, one of the noblest, purest, greatest and best men Texas ever knew. May thousands rise up and call him blessed, and imitate his resplendent virtues. May the cries of his orphan children and lonely widow never be disregarded, and from the jasper walls of the eternal city may his redeemed spirit behold the ever widening influence and increasing glory of the churches and the University for which he toiled and for which he died, and may his beloved wife and children all be fully prepared to meet him in that world that is brighter than day.”
Source: J. L. Walker and C. P. Lumpkin, History of the Waco Baptist Association of Texas (Waco: Byrne-Hill Printing House, 1897), pp. 253-255.