Tom wanted most of all to be remembered as a scientist-a teacher/researcher. Willis Johnson provided Tom with his first research experience and Tom provided, in turn, that opportunity for literally hundreds of Wabash students during the years he was Treves Professor.

Spring 1998

A Tribute to Professor Tom Cole
Wabash College Professor of Biology Tom Cole '58 died on Thursday, April 9 following a courageous battle with cancer. On May 15 his h former classmates, returning to their alma mater for their 40th reunion, joined hundreds of Professor Cole's colleagues, friends, and former students to "celebrate Tom Cole's life and his passions for science and Wabash." The following is the text of Professor of Biology Aus Brooks' '61 tribute to his friend and colleague:

We assemble here today to remember and celebrate the life of Thomas A. Cole, proud and loving father, caring teacher, esteemed classmate, respected colleague, and good friend. It is fitting that we gather here in the College Chapel, since Tom felt strongly that this assembly was the essence of the Wabash experience which he cherished as a student, an alumnus, and as a teacher for nearly 45 years. He would be overwhelmed by the display of affection your attendance today represents.

Words that come to mind when we think of Tom might include µamong others: bright, thoughtful, quiet, polite, complex, and private. Tom delivered a number of public talks and penned several essays over the years that reveal he was also creative and visionary. Many stories about Tom during different phases of his life also contribute to our understanding of this fascinating man.

He loved sports, from the time he was a small boy, growing up in Southern Illinois, to the end of his life. Even as a child, Tom became an avid baseball fan. He would take a small transistor radio behind the garage at his family's home in Harrisburg and listen to the St. Louis Cardinals' games. As a result of his keen interest in the Cards, he actually taught himself to read even before he entered school. Remembering the events of the game as they were described on the radio, he would ask a family member to show him where the article about the same game could be found in the local paper. Already familiar with the box scores, he soon learned to associate the text with events he heard.

His love of spectator sports continued through his adult life. When there was a Wabash home football game, Tom was always among the screaming crowd no matter how inclement the weather. Sunday afternoons were often spent grading lab papers and watching the NFL game of the week. While he had little patience with professional basketball, he was an avid fan of the Little Giants. Each game he would keep score as well as cheer the team. One of his last outings was to see the Little Giant basketball team top Aurora College in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

Tom's attention to any cause he deemed important was remarkable. As a student, he often did yardwork for Jean and Eliot Williams and babysat their boys. One Saturday morning in mid-April of 1958, Tom was scheduled to help Eliot with yard work. The late afternoon before, after returning from a chem lab, Tom had received a message from the Western Union office in the old Crawford Hotel that a telegram had arrived for him. Rather than going to get the wire on Saturday morning, he went to the Williams's for the previously scheduled lawn-work and dirt-moving session. At one point on the unusually hot and humid morning, Eliot asked Tom if he had heard from graduate school applications. When Eliot learned that a telegram awaited Tom at Western Union, he dispatched him immediately. The wire, from George Beatle, head of biology at Cal Tech, informed Tom that he was accepted with an assistantship for graduate study. The yard work was not resumed that morning. Eliot and Jean turned the occasion into an impromptu celebratory brunch.

With a Phi Beta Kappa key in his pocket, the honors graduate from Wabash, who wrote a distinction on comps, arrived in Pasadena in late summer of 1958-a far cry from the corn and bean fields of West Central Indiana.

From Coal Miner's Son to Scientist

Cal Tech in 1958 was a heady place. Beadle had won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine the spring before Tom arrived. Linus Pauling won his first Nobel prize in chemistry only four years earlier and received his second the last spring Tom was in Pasadena. One of Tom's good friends was Ed Lewis, who, like Tom, worked late into the night on the genetics of fruitfly development. Ed Lewis won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1995 for the work he did during Tom's graduate days.

Tom was picked by James Bonner, renowned plant biochemist, to be Bonner's head TA in the intro course. Lee Hood, a molecular biologist who has become a central figure in the human genome project, was an undergraduate in his senior year at Cal Tech when Tom entered as a beginning graduate student. They became friends. A few years ago, Tom took four Wabash students to the NCUR meetings at Cal Tech where Lee Hood was the keynote speaker. The next evening Tom took the students to one of Pasadena's finer restaurants where they were shocked to discover one of their dinner companions was none other than Lee Hood.

During the long nights in the lab, Tom regularly listened to a local DJ. At one point the radio station sponsored a contest to name a Hi-Fi system they were giving away. The special feature of the system was that the components were balanced-they were meant to fit together. Tom was deep into stereo chemistry at the time so he submitted, as the story goes, a somewhat detailed description of stereo chemistry noting that molecules had to fit together in just the right way before a reaction could occur. Tom suggested the give-away Hi-Fi system be called "stereo specific components." The DJ liked the name, and he was really impressed with Tom's primer on stereo chemistry-Tom won. His roommates at 325 South Wilson in Pasadena learned the results of the contest as they had supper one evening. Tom's creativity meant that everyone on South Wilson enjoyed high quality music from that time on.

The coal miner's son adapted easily to the California life style. He and fellow grad students occassionally went to the beach on Sunday afternoons for swimming, sunning, and volleyball. But his roots were in the Midwest and he always planned to return. In this day and age of significant faculty recruiting expenses, Tom liked to remind us that he was recruited by Willis Johnson, then Chair of the Biology Department, in the spring of 1962 for 13 cents-the cost in those days of a first class letter. Tom arrived in Crawfordsville with a Ph.D. from Cal Tech, one of the premier schools in biochemistry and the emerging field of molecular biology, driving a Thunderbird convertible and sporting a terrific suntan. Tom was an immediate favorite of the students. Soon he became known affectionately as "T-bird Tommy," a moniker that was still used when I joined the faculty in 1966. Tom's first semester teaching assignment was senior seminar and general biology with two lab sections-so "you can get the feet on the ground" as Willis put it. Second semester Tom taught the biochemistry course for the first time.

Taking Pride in His Students

Tom was one of the most unpretentious human beings most of us will ever know. He took great pride in not extolling his own achievements, although they were myriad. Chair of Biology, President of the Indiana College Biology Teachers Association, co-author of six college biology textbooks, author of numerous scientific papers, member of national accreditation review teams for more than 25 years, book and paper reviewer, founder of the "Ides of August" celebration, founder of the Biology Seminar program-the list could go on and on. A few knew Tom as a serious collector of fine china, particularly Lenox and Baleek. He was also a superb woodworker. During the last 17 ±years Tom crafted more than 60 antique furniture reproductions. He also played the organ, wrote a three-act play, and invented a board game.

While Tom was reticent to speak about his accomplishments, he was quick to "sing the praises of his students." His scientific children are numerous and distinguished; many are here today. He thoroughly enjoyed talking about you and was immensely proud of your accomplishments.

A display of this pride is seen in an article he wrote for Wabash Magazine in 1995 called "That Amazing Biology Class of 1963:"

"I have this recurrent dream which harkens back to the first course I taught at Wabash College. In the dream I am giving a lecture on some important biochemical topic to this first class. However the students are not as they were in the spring of 1963, but as they are today. Each point that I start to explain is met with hand waves of impatience and accompanied by calls of 'We already know that!'

"The Molecular Biology Class, Spring '63, proved to be a great personal thrill far beyond the fact that it was my first solo course. The students of that class represented such a great pool of talent . . .

"I must confess that this recurring dream of giving a biochemistry lecture to an audience that includes a member of the National Academy of Science, the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology, and professors from Oberlin, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, U. C. San Diego, Vanderbilt, South Dakota, Arizona, and Wisconsin is unnerving, but it is not a nightmare!"

Tom once confided to me that, after teaching that group of students, he really thought college teaching was a snap, and that he ought to be paying for that privilege instead of getting paid. All 27 members of the class earned graduate degrees and 23 received M.D. or Ph.D. degrees. It never entered Tom's mind that the teacher of the class may have played some role in the success of that first class of students. The man who taught a Los Angeles DJ stereochemistry certainly could do wonders with Wallies.

Over the past 30 years, many of our alums in their first year of medical school have noted, "It is rough, I've been working pretty hard except in biochemistry. We used the same book as we did in Dr. Cole's class-but we only cover a part of it-biochem is a piece of cake."

The Consummate Teacher/Researcher

Tom wanted most of all to be remembered as a scientist-a teacher/researcher. Willis Johnson provided Tom with his first research experience and Tom provided, in turn, that opportunity for literally hundreds of Wabash students during the years he was Treves Professor.

Tom developed sterile growth conditions for a white nematode worm the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at Wabash. It was this creative experien åce that caused Tom to rethink his career goals. His interest in medicine was replaced by a curiosity about teaching and research. Tom entered Wabash thinking he would not graduate-he planned to attend medical school after three years of undergraduate work. To that end he took 19 hours each semester of his freshman year and averaged almost 18 hours per semester throughout his undergrad career. Tom's last research project was to develop molecular methods to distinguish the different species of the protozoan, Paramecium. What is perhaps most significant about Tom's research is that he published articles in refereed journals, including an article in Science, one of our most prestigious journals, on each of the four major classes of biomolecules-carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. Most researchers have expertise and hence publications in only one of the four.

Tom was also a communicato |r of scientific concepts. In addition to the texts that have been mentioned, he was the founder of Science Notebook, the newspaper column the Biology Department wrote for more than ten years. In those days there was no NYT Science section, no Robert Brazel with NBC-TV, not even a local TV health beat reporter. While the concept was visionary, Tom's suggestion that each author would contribute his or her honorarium to the Johnson Research fund was especially creative. In this novel arrangement a research endowment would continually grow and the faculty author would receive tax credit for a contribution to the College. When only the Indianapolis News subscribed, the fund grew slowly, but when The Columbus Post Dispatch and the South Bend Tribune joined the mini syndication which Tom arranged by personal visits to the managing editor of these papers, the Johnson Fund grew significan etly.

In the spring of his first year as a faculty member, Tom heard Dean of the College Ben Rogge address the Class of 1963 at the annual Senior Breakfast. Dean Rogge noted:

" . . . this is a college which seems to be able to influence the lives of those young men who attend it-to provide them with an experience strong in its impact on what they are, what they think and say and do, and how they think and say and do it. It is a college which commands affection and loyalty and, at its best is a lifelong inspiration to its graduates to seek to become something better than they are."

"Seize the Day"

Tom never forgot those words. Everything Tom did as a faculty member was aimed at making Wabash a better college and her students better people. His freshman orientation talk, Carpe Diem, to the Class of 1996, reflects his feeling about the Wabash experience. He said:

"If forced to reduce all of college life's themes and experiences to a simple declarative sentence, I would say the following: "There is always more."

With respect to creativity he advised: "After completing a problem or providing an explanation, ask the question "can it be done in another way which is more eloquent, clearer or cleaner? There is always more."

He ends his talk with a final bit of advice. "Literally, carpe diem tells one person to act now-to seize that one day. For the Class of '96 the challenge is more than one day. It is four years of liberal arts education. Seize the four years."

Another example of his vision for Wabash was apparent when he challenged, in an email message to faculty, staff, and the subscribers to the Wally-L listserv, in the spring of 1996, to think about Wabash College in a visionary way. He asked:

"What would the characteristics of the best college[s] be? Can we produce a list of 100 points of excellence which would be reflective of the goals and accomplishments of such schools. When/if 100 is reached, then the reordering process will begin."

He was disappointed that his invitation to all constituencies of the College didn't attract more attention. In his last public presentation, the Ides celebration in August of 1997, Tom reflected again on the 100 points of a great college:

"The faculty response was one email message and one shopping cart encounter at the largest Kroger store in west central Indiana. The response from the staff was the null set. Two email messages came from the Wallies . . . "

Tom went on to say, "Further, an unusual characteristic of an excellent college that I would have predicted [would be on the list] is a measurable number of faculty and students who achieve significantly in more than one area. This is the scientist who writes poetry. This is the gifted athlete who is also is a gifted academician. This is the duPont chemist/administrator who worked out several basics of birdsong communication."

Why didn't the list grow? Not due, I think, to lack of interest-Tom didn't appreciate that the first 20 items that he contributed were so comprehensive that there was little that could be added. Allow me to read just four.

An academic program that is strong and challenging.

A synergy among extra-/para-curricular and curricular programs.

Recognizable levels of leadership among all constituencies.

An enthusiastic/positive view of the school by the majority in all constituencies; a general lack of dour negativism.

In 1975, Byron K. Trippet, for whom Tom had great respect and affection, first as dean and later as president, wrote in his collection of recollections about the College entitled, Wabash on My Mind, the following:

"I wanted to lift Wabash to a new, extraordinary high level of excellence on all fronts. And I wanted to win for Wabash national recognition for that excellence."

President Trippet's vision for Wabash was most certainly Tom's as well.

In another passage President Trippet describes Tom Cole's association with Wabash perfectly:

"Those teachers and staff members who stay feel deeply about the place and about what it strives to be. For them, even though they might be embar-rassed by my putting it as I do, it amounts to a permanent love affair. This is especially true of Wabash graduates on the faculty or administrative staff. For them, private life and Wabash life are inseparable."

" . . . there have always been among the faculty more than a few men of extraordinary high quality. I have in mind men of exceptionally good intellect supported by strong character or men of exceptionally strong character supported by sound intellect."

Thomas A. Cole was surely one of those human beings Byron Trippet was describing. We will miss Tom's vision and creativity, but he has left us with a grand legacy that will not be forgotten.

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