GREATEST By John Dunn JOHN SAYLOR COON TAUGHT LESSONS HIS STUDENTS NEVER FORGOT
ON FIRST MEETING PROFESSOR JOHN SAYLOR COON, the mother of one of his students asked conversationally, "Doctor, I understand that you teach mechanical engineering." "No," Coon replied. "I teach ethics." In fact, he taught both—with a passion. Coon joined the faculty in 1889, a year after Georgia Tech first opened its doors, and served as chairman of mechanical engineering until his retirement in 1923. Affectionately known by his students as "Uncle Si," he was offered the job as president when Dr. I. S. Hopkins, Tech first president died, but he turned it down. The late George C. Griffin, whose career at Tech began as a student in 1914 and included coaching, teaching and serving as longtime dean of students until his retirement in 1964, called Coon "Tech's greatest professor." Although Griffin was a 1922 civil engineering graduate, he said that as a student, he would visit Coon's classes "just to hear him lecture." In his book, Griffin—You're a Great Disappointment to Me, Griffin relates an anecdote concerning Coon's inspection of Atlanta's first automobile. Coon gave his class a first-hand assessment. "Young men, I have just seen a machine to which they have harnessed many horses," Coon proclaimed. "It smells, runs like hell and they are going to give it to all the college students, women and delivery boys to drive. They are going to kill more people than all the wars in history."
GEORGIA TECH • Spring 1998