John Steven Cone (1941-2002)


The exploration community lost a great chemist, trusted adviser, gifted educator, and close friend to many in the industry, to cardiac arrest in July. Many of you may have known Steve from Cone Geochemical, one of the leading assaying and geochemical laboratories in North America that he founded and managed for over 25 years.

Steve began his career at Bear Creek Mining (which later became Kennecott Copper Corporation) in 1964 as a part-time employee, working weekends and vacations while completing his political science degree at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He joined Kennecott full time in 1966 in the Geochemical Laboratories Division of Kennecott’s Exploration Services unit. Steve focused on becoming expert in all technical aspects of geochemical exploration and research, from sample preparation, sample digestion, to analytical techniques, such as wet chemistry and the newly emerging technologies of atomic adsorption and inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy. Steve’s involvement in research included mineral separations of limonite, which were studied in an attempt to provide a more quantitative understanding of limonite composition for leached caps in porphyry copper deposits. His service at Kennecott was key to the success of the Geologic Research Division.

Steve and his wife Danielle moved to the Denver, Colorado area in 1976 and together started what became one of the mining industries’ leading assaying and geochemical laboratories, Cone Geochemical Inc. At Cone Geochemical, Steve developed a culture based on integrity, honesty and accuracy that led to a loyal clientele who relied on his services for years. Cone Geochemical was well respected due to Steve’s constant involvement and communication with other geoscientsts. He was always available to help geologists learn about the “analysis” along with every other aspect of the lab. He was respected for his integrity and commitment to quality in our industry. Steve and his lab were always available and open for research and orientation projects; his lab was used for, in addition to routine analyses, quality check assays, the development and improvement of geochemical methods, and custom preparation procedures for orientation surveys.

Steve was committed to enhancing the contribution of analytical services to mineral exploration success through the sharing of his expertise. The fortunate result of geographic proximity and Steve’s interest and hospitality enabled students taking geochemical exploration courses at the Colorado School of Mines to visit Cone Geochemical and experience this passion first hand. In addition to the obvious opportunity to translate the classroom book learning into tangible realities, they had the chance to observe a competent, dedicated professional using his talents to the benefit of all. Steve always concluded a tour with the invitation to one and all to contact him if they had questions that he might be able to help them with. He provided a personal and professional role model we all might aspire to.

A Fellow of the Association of Exploration Geochemists, Steve was a councilor of the association from 1995 to 1999, supported the EXPLORE Newsletter, and served on the Awards and Medals Committee for many years. Steve’s involvement was always welcomed and added greatly to the understanding of the analytical problems at hand. Throughout his career, Steve was generous with his time and was always there to provide help and advise when asked. His expert council, honesty and integrity were characteristic of his professional dealings with colleagues. For those of us who had the opportunity to work with him, he was the geochemist’s chemist and will be sorely missed.

Steve is survived by his wife and partner, Danielle Clawson. All three of his children, Dominique, John, and Nathan, came to form an understanding of people, science, life, and family under Steve and Danielle’s tutelage and employment. The emptiness in the hearts of those who knew him will never be filled.

A scholarship fund has been established at the Colorado School of Mines for the study of geochemistry. Donations may be sent to: 

John Steven Cone Memorial Scholarship Fund
c/o Wells Fargo Bank
1301 Jackson Ave.
Golden, CO USA 80401.