Thomas Cone’s Love for Biology and Teaching Sprouts at Phillips Academy

Thomas Cone, Instructor in Biology, has never had a dull moment at Andover in his 40 years of teaching on campus. During his tenure at Phillips Academy, Cone has taught various biology classes, coached varsity squash and coordinated the Lawrence outreach program, PALS. “It’s really rewarding to be able to teach biology to students that will make a difference in the world beyond Andover,” said Cone. Cone, who grew up in Maryland, recalled that his favorite childhood pastimes fueled his lifelong passion for biology. “As a kid I loved natural history, the outdoors and all living things. I knew I was really interested in biology from childhood. My parents were really good about allowing me to explore my interest,” Cone recalled. “We had a lot of pets and animals in the house that I was really intrigued by. At one point, I remember them letting me keep frogs in the bathtub,” he continued. In high school, Cone worked as a lifeguard at a day camp. This job helped him to “discover my passion for teaching,” he said. After graduating from high school, Cone attended Trinity College, where he majored in biology and minored in education in the class of 1964. But after leaving the world of academia, Cone joined the Peace Corps to explore his interest in international relations. “I worked in Liberia as a teacher but also with agriculture. This was a way for me to combine my multiple interests. I was teaching biology, and we were growing patty rice as well as raising turkeys and chickens,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience that still shapes a lot of ways I think about the world. I continue to bring up stories in class,” he added. Cone arrived at Andover from the Peace Corps, the same year his parents’ moved from Maryland to Wellesley, Massachusetts. Cone said that it was difficult to find teaching positions at private high schools because he was unable to have an interview while he was stationed in West Africa. “I applied to a lot of New England prep schools for teaching positions and I got turned down from most of them because I couldn’t come for an interview,” he said. Cone’s father, who was a professor at Harvard Medical School, visited Andover and met with John Kemper, then the Head of School. “My father met John Kemper who also had previously been in the military. They had a lot of military friends and connections and Kemper agreed to let me have the position under a two-year appointment. My father allowed me to come to Andover,” Cone said. For Cone, teaching at Andover allows him to combine his interest in biology with his love for knowledge and teaching. “Some of my favorite courses to teach are electives like Animal Behavior, Ornithology and Microbiology and Disease,” he said. “One reason I like teaching the course about diseases is that we spend a lot of time talking about how diseases affect the world outside of Andover. We discuss how small the world is and how easily disease travels,” he said. “Because of this, I can link my interest in international relations that remains so prominent after my time with the Peace Corps,” Cone continued. Cone learned how to play squash at PA when he first arrived at the school. “I learned squash here at PA thanks to some students that taught me. One [is] now a Trustee. In my early years at the school, I played a lot of squash in Boston. By 1980, I took over the varsity team and have been coaching ever since,” he said. Cone took over PALS after the faculty member who founded the program left Andover. PALS is an educational enrichment program for middle school students, mostly from Lawrence, Massachusetts, who have been recommended for their academic strength. “[PALS] is very important to me. I’ve had a lot of fun with the organization. We try to bring the kids up academically. In the eighth grade we help them with admission and scholarships for high schools,” said Cone. Cone is thankful to the engaging community for making Andover a great place to live and teach for the past 40 years. “The student body is hugely stimulating, it always has been and continues to be. It’s great to have an effect on the next generation. Andover is a vibrant place, and it’s fun to be around the people here,” he said. Cone continued, “During my time here, I’ve been able to help and support others. It’s a great life. Some people ask me when I’m going retire. Until I find something better to do, why retire? It’s a great life. Never a dull moment.”