Thomas Cone, Instructor in Biology, Shares Passion for Nature Inside and Outside the Classroom

Every year, Thomas Cone, Instructor in Biology, accompanies his students to his favorite blooming cherry tree outside of Samuel Phillips Hall, pointing out the local birds and mimicking a robin’s song for his students. The trip is just one example of Cone’s rich knowledge and passion for biology, which he has shared with Andover students for the past 45 years.

Cone has been at Andover for longer than any other instructor.

Spending his early years in Princeton, New Jersey, Cone said his passion for nature began when he was a young boy.

“There are so many funny things that animals will do that you just don’t expect,” said Cone.

“The best way to learn about an animal is to have it as a pet.”

Cone cared for several pets throughout his childhood, including cats, dogs, canaries, parakeets, snakes, turtles, foxes and skunks. He also loved to go to the pond with friends after school to watch the frogs, turtles and dragonflies.

Cone recalled how his father, who worked in the Navy, used to “sneak” him frogs that they used in the naval labs.

“I used to keep the frog in the bathtub,” he said.

He also vividly remembers when his great aunt visited his house and encountered his pet fox.

“My mother had served [my great aunt] a grapefruit. I had let the fox out when I was around during the day, and she would follow me around. This once, she just jumped on to the table where my great aunt was sitting and grabbed the grapefruit in her mouth. [My great aunt] was plain scared.”

Cone currently teaches Topics in Advanced Biology 1, Biology 540. He also teaches three science electives: Animal Behavior, in the fall, Microbiology, in the winter and Ornithology, in the spring.

Cone’s journey to Andover spanned continents, as the travelled to Massachusetts from Liberia. After graduating from Trinity College, Cone had decided to work for the Peace Corps in Liberia, where he taught in high schools and elementary schools and worked on a farm.

“While I worked at the school, [the community] was trying to grow more crops in the area. They taught me [their agricultural techniques].”

Cone loved his time teaching in elementary schools in Liberia, so he decided to apply for a job teaching biology at a variety of New England preparatory schools. Many schools rejected his job request because he was busy in Liberia and could not interview.

However, Cone’s father, who had retired from the Navy, had known John Kemper, Head of School at Phillips Academy and a retired colonel in the army. Cone’s father interviewed with Kemper in Cone’s place.

In 1966, Phillips Academy offered Cone a job for two years to replace two teachers that were going on sabbatical.

After the two- year period, the academy offered Cone a permanent teaching position. For the past 45 years, Cone has worked in the Biology Department.

Cone particularly enjoys teaching the “environmental side” of biology. “Biology is very molecular these days, there is a lot of DNA and gene action. But, I like learning about all of the plants and animals that live here,” he said.

Cone tries to “expose students to the outdoors as much as possible” during class, so his students can better understand what lives around them.

Cone noted a consciousness about wildlife can help students be more aware about environmental changes.

“If you are outdoors and you see a blue jay, and you return to the same area the next year and see more blue jays, you begin to feel at home. If all of a sudden the blue jay population goes away for a season, you begin to realize something is wrong,” he said.

Cone is also director of PALS, a “two- year educational enrichment program for seventh and eighth grade students,” according to the Phillips Academy website.

When Cone was named Director in 1990, he worked to “change the nature” of the selection process for PALS students. “At PALS, I go for the best and the brightest. The kids are recommended by their teachers.”

“It’s fun to teach, but it is always a challenge. [Teaching] makes you feel younger too [because] you are working with younger people.”