Cole, Richard Lee (1878–1963), methodist minister and historian, was born 24 January 1878 in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, second of five sons of the Rev. Richard Cole (1847–1925), methodist minister and editor of the Irish Christian Advocate, and Margaret Anne Cole (née Lee). He was educated (1891–6) at the Methodist College, Belfast; one of the few nonconformist clergy at that time to study divinity at TCD, he graduated BA (1900) and MA, BD (1913). He taught (1896–9) at Wesley College, Dublin, subsequently becoming a member, secretary (1906–63), chairman, and trustee (1946–56) of the board of governors. It was largely due to his exertions that the Methodist Female Orphan School became a trust – of which he became chairman – and orphan girls received bursaries to enter the college.
Entering the methodist ministry in 1900, he served in Limerick (1900–01) before being appointed head resident master and assistant theological tutor at the Methodist College, Belfast (1902–6), subsequently serving as governor (1926–33). He was stationed mainly in Dublin (1907–10, 1923–63), though also in Belfast (1911–15, 1919–22) and Cork (1916–18). He loved preaching; his eloquent sermons were interesting, relevant, and evangelical; and he worked assiduously for closer understanding and union between the various Irish churches, bringing together friends from all sects and denominations.
Appointed secretary of the Methodist Education Department (1918–c.1958), and assistant secretary (1921–5), secretary (1926–32), and vice-president of the Conference and president of the Methodist Church in Ireland (1933–4), he held office during a period of change in the methodist churches of England and Ireland and helped in the preparation of the Methodist Church in Ireland acts (1915, 1928). He also drafted the constitution of the church and contributed to the revision of the Manual of laws. A member of the original board of trustees of the Irish Methodist Church, he was chairman of both the Cork and Dublin synods. He represented the Irish Methodist Church on many occasions and was a delegate (1929) to the general council of the United Church of Canada. An able administrator and wise counsellor, he served on many committees including the government advisory council of education from 1950.
President (1948–63) of the Irish branch of the Wesley Historical Society, he was awarded a fellowship in methodist history (1956) by the World Methodist Council. His published works include Love-feasts: a history of the Christian agape (1916), A history of methodism in Dublin (1932), History of methodism in Ireland, 1860–1960, iv (1960), and Wesley College, Dublin (1963); he remained an amateur historian, and though valuable his work is of variable quality. Sub-editor of the Irish Christian Advocate for many years, as musician and expert on methodist hymnology he served as a committee member on the preparation of the Hymn book (1933).
Cole died 12 December 1963 in Terenure, Dublin, and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. He married first (1904) Selina M'Kell Kelly, who died (1907) giving birth to their only son, John S. R. Cole (qv); he subsequently married (1909) Emily Dowling; they had one daughter. His brother Col. David Henry Cole (d. 1957), OBE, CBE, wrote books on imperial military history and geography.