Carey Cook '61 and wife, Jan (Submitted)
August 22, 2023

A way with words

Alums’ vocabulary website helps students and teachers
by Allyson Irish

Carey Cook ’61 is a former stockbroker who created the website with his wife. The site is jam-packed with useful (and free!) resources for teachers of elementary- through high school–age students. Below, Cook shares insights on his upbringing, his path to PA, and his vocabulary “wish” for all students.

From successful stockbroker to publisher of a vocabulary website—how did this career pivot come about?

Five years after I graduated from Harvard Business School, I was working in NYC at Morgan Stanley. Time magazine had just published a front-page story, “Johnny Can’t Read.” I was shocked by the article. That information started my effort to learn more about literacy and to try to create something that could help. But it wasn’t until 1997 that I acted on this impulse, working with my wife, Jan, a former schoolteacher, to create resources for teachers and students.

You were raised by your grandfather, the well-known editorial cartoonist Carey Orr. How did he influence you?

My grandfather always felt as if he were my real father. I lived with my mother and brother in my grandparent’s home in Kenilworth, Illinois, from 6 months old until I was 22. We had family communication at the dining room table every night; it was enlightening to talk about history, human interest stories, and athletics. This allowed all of us to share and contribute and reinforced the value of a good education, which was critical for my brother and me.

What was your path to Phillips Academy?

I wanted to get the best education that I could with the encouragement and direction from my family. I was a midwestern “Chicago boy.” Almost every summer we would take a trip mostly to the West to places like Colorado, Wyoming, California, Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Washington. I thought that going to prep school in New England would be a great broadening experience.

What do you remember most about your PA experience?

Mr. McCulloch was my junior year housemaster, and he made my “eastern transition” very smooth. The friends I met were very special—Don Davis and Fulton Collins are important lifelong friends. Two other close classmates were Bucky Sides and Mike Mayers. My athletic participation included two years of varsity football and baseball—a wonderful, shared experience.

Any special teachers or classes at PA?

Mr. Brown was my English teacher. He was a dedicated professional in a subject I liked. My history teacher was very challenging. I learned a great deal that I could share with my grandfather.

Do you have a favorite word?

My favorite word is “syzygy.” It’s an astronomical term that means the alignment of three celestial objects (like the sun, Earth, and either the moon or a planet). It’s a fun word to use and it looks otherworldly!

If you could wave a wand and all students could learn one lesson from Vocabulary University, what would it be?

Never give up! Keep persevering! If you see a troubling issue, attempt to correct it by becoming educated or creating something worthwhile and stimulating. That is what my wife and I have attempted to do to improve word understanding at I’m proud to say we have influenced thousands of teachers and students who use the free content of word puzzles and games.

(Photo of Carey and his wife, Jan. Submitted)

Categories: Alumni, Magazine

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