Snapshots of St. George's

'He set the standard for great teaching'
Posted 05/11/2018 01:00PM

Faculty

Editor’s note: Please submit your own well-wishes or words of appreciation for Mr. Evans on our tribute page


Veteran biology teacher Tom Evans, an instructor who sparked a passion for science in generations of students, a competitive yet compassionate coach, and a dedicated lifelong learner, will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year, capping an illustrious 31-year tenure on the Hilltop. 

With his passion for science, his experience as a high-level athlete and his calm, encouraging demeanor, Mr. Evans seems born to have become a teacher. Since his arrival on the Hilltop in 1987, he has taught all levels of biology and microbiology; served as director of the summer school, chair of the science department, an advisor and dorm parent; and coached varsity swimming and soccer, as well as cross country and golf. He has been the holder of the Vincent Astor ’10 Teaching Chair in Science, to promote and honor excellence in teaching, since 1991. 

“The first day of school next fall is going to be very different for me,” said Tom’s fellow biology teacher Holly Williams about his retirement. “For 27 years Tom has been in the science building (old and new) teaching next door to me. He has been there to help me learn the ropes as a new teacher, to collaborate with on laboratory experiments, to bounce ideas off of, to teach me about topics in HIV and microbiology, to share frustrations, to chat about biological research —but mostly to be a friend.”

Other colleagues added their appreciation for Mr. Evans as a mentor and guide.

“Tom has served as a standard for great teaching ever since I started here,” said chemistry teacher Scott Stachelhaus, who arrived at St. George’s in 2011. “He is someone I looked up to as a young teacher, and he is still someone I look up to today.”

English teacher Jeff Simpson, a longtime colleague of Evans who coached the cross-country team with him, said he’s always admired Mr. Evans’ “remarkable ability to inspire his students and athletes through a combination of very high standards and genuine care for their progress and welfare.”

Mr. Simpson said he witnessed many students strive to meet Mr. Evans’ “tough Old School requirements” because he created a culture of mutual respect. “[Tom] brings excitement, curiosity, and first-rate expertise to whatever he undertakes,” he said. “Only Tom could inspire kids to embrace ‘pain is fun’ as a cheery team motto.” 

In fact, legions of former athletes, many of whom may not have even known their true potential, upped their skill level and confidence under Mr. Evans’ guidance. During his tenure as head coach the varsity swim team, the 2008-09 season was the most successful in SG history. With 46 swimmers, the largest SG swim squad ever, the teams finished undefeated, 17-0 in coed, boys and girls dual meet competitions — and both the girls’ and boys’ teams won their first-ever ISL Invitational meet titles, besting teams from Milton and Thayer. In a story in the 2012 Summer Bulletin, Halsey Huth ’12, a co-captain of the boys’ varsity swim team for the 2011-12 season, said “Coach Evans is one of the best coaches I have had at St. George’s. Because of him, the swim team is a group of some of the closest students on campus.”

In the science classroom, students have been inspired by Mr. Evans’ contagious love of discovery, often while peering through one of the solar-powered microscopes he outfitted his latest lab with. Third-form honors biology student Brady Lyons said she has always been excited to go to Mr. Evans’ class. “I appreciate how he can make a class informational, but at the same time entertaining and engaging,” she said.

When current Head of the Science Department Bob Wein came to interview for a job at St. George in 1999, he said Mr. Evans’ “openness, his obvious love of the kids and his thorough knowledge of microbiology” impressed him. “After coming to the Hilltop, it was clear to me that Tom's mixture of joy and the highest academic expectations are something I can only aspire to emulate,” he added. “He has impacted so many future scientists, and genuinely helped make the St. George's Science Department what it is today.”

Dean of Faculty Beezie Bickford said that when she first came to St. George’s in the fall of 1990, she heard about a teacher everyone called “The Rock.” “He was a really popular biology teacher, head varsity coach of swimming and soccer, dorm parent, advisor, family man — and he did it all with energy, curiosity, and good humor,” she said. “Now 28 years later, I am even more in awe of Tom. He's maintained a passion for teaching, he has an amazing range of interests, and he's still quick with a smile. That old nickname speaks to his deep commitment to education and students of all ages that runs deep and steady.”  

Cory Cramer ’00 is an English teacher at St. George’s now, but in 1996-97 he was a third former in Mr. Evans’ biology class. “I remember vividly his lecture on cat anatomy in preparation for our dissection project,” Mr. Cramer said. “He peppered the lecture with anecdotes from his time working in a morgue. Though I'm now firmly on the humanities path, I still think of Mr. Evans' class as a moment when I might have turned, because his passion for biology was, for our time together, my own.”

The grandson of the 1917 Norwegian women’s national swim champion, Mr. Evans discovered his own skills at swimming at an early age. “My first memory of ‘wow’ was 1959,” he said in a St. George’s Bulletin story in 2012. “I was 9 years old and I won a trophy at a YMCA meet. I loved that trophy. It was a big trophy. I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool. I want more of these.’” He later went on to become a three-time All-American swimmer, captain of the swim team and starting goalkeeper for the soccer team at North Carolina State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology and microbiology.

He has always been known around campus as a man of many talents and interests. An excellent golfer, he even builds his own clubs. And he can often be seen with his favorite camera in tow capturing the beauty of the campus, including an iconic shot of the moon behind the chapel tower.

In recent years, Mr. Evans has found great reward in creating a specialized curriculum for the study of the AIDS virus and in serving as a mobility volunteer at Newport Hospital, where he and sometimes one of his students would go to help patients take their first steps following surgery. 

Recently, Mr. Evans reflected on his decision to retire. “It has truly been an honor to have been part of the St. George’s community for over 30 years, almost half of my life,” he said. “The Hilltop has been a wonderful supportive home for Linda and our children.”

He said he has always admired St. George’s teachers for their talents, dedication and enthusiasm. “But most of all I have been truly blessed to have been able to serve so many SG students who have inspired me and truly taught me what a humble and honorable gift it is to be a teacher,” he said. “It is frightening to think about my last class as a teacher at St. George’s. I cannot imagine not having a class to teach. Teaching has been like oxygen for me.”

Mr. Evans, a Wilmington, Delaware, native, says he will return to his hometown this summer to be closer to family and friends. His son Thomas, who graduated from St. George’s in 2009 lives in New York and his daughter Kaitlyn, who graduated in 2006, now lives in Washington, D.C.

“I plan to look for volunteering positions at local hospitals and schools, possible part-time teaching positions, I hope to continue my love of photography, and maybe even find time to play a few rounds of golf,” he said. “But I will miss the work and friendship on the Hilltop and the magic of the sunrises over Second Beach.”

A Coeducational Boarding and Day School for Grades 9 Through 12
St. George's School
372 Purgatory Road Middletown, Rhode Island 02842
401-847-7565
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