Robert Stewart Hyer, scientist and university president, son of William L. and Laura (Stewart) Hyer, was born in Oxford, Georgia, on October 18, 1860. After receiving his elementary education in Atlanta he earned from Emory College an A.B. degree with first honors in 1881 and an M.A. degree in 1882. He received honorary LL.D. degrees from Central College of Missouri in 1901 and Baylor University in 1910.
Hyer followed Emory graduates Morgan Callaway, Jr., and Claude C. Cody to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. He was professor of physics (1882–1911) and, after first declining the position, served as regent of the university (1897–1911). During his administration two large limestone buildings, Mood Hall and the Administration Building, were constructed; the endowment was raised to nearly $300,000; the student body increased from 400 to 1,200; and a medical college at Dallas and the School of Fine Arts in Georgetown were established. With the apparent blessings of the 1910 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Hyer attempted to move the university to Dallas. This effort caused a major split in the trustees and faculty and brought about Hyer's resignation in June 1911. Later that year he moved to Dallas to become one of the founders of Southern Methodist University, where he served as president from 1911 to 1920. He was also professor of physics at SMU until his death.
After attending a Harvard lecture series on electricity and electromagnetic waves in 1891, Hyer returned to Georgetown and in 1894 transmitted a wireless message from his lab to the city jail, a distance of about a mile. This experiment was independent of and nearly simultaneous with those of M. G. Marconi. Hyer's X-ray experiments in 1896 and 1897, only two years after Roentgen's discovery, were demonstrated to scientific and medical groups throughout Texas. His scientific writings were widely recognized. Just before his death Hyer made patent applications to protect his invention of the resistograph, an instrument he used to locate oilfields in Ward County and in West Texas near Wink. In the Fall of 1928 the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Emory University elected him to membership for his outstanding scientific achievements.
Hyer was a lay member of the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1898, 1902, 1906, and 1911 and a member of the ecumenical conferences in London (1902) and Toronto (1910). He was a member of the general board of education of the Methodist Church (1898–1910) and after 1902 a member of the education commission. His first wife, Madge Jordan of Georgia, whom Hyer married in 1883, died in childbirth at her mother's home in 1884. To his second marriage, to Margaret Lee Hudgins in 1887, were born three children. Hyer died on May 29, 1929.