Friday, March 11, 2011

Jane Goodall

On Wednesday, Fred and I drove over to Houston to hear Jane Goodall give a talk. This idea came about when we were discussing our next travel plans, and I realized that I wanted to visit the places and/or hear talks from the authors of the books that had captivated me and had a real influence on my thinking.

Jane Goodall fit this category and I had especially wanted to hear her speak ever since our daughter, Laura, had the chance to see her at Drake University in Des Moines a number of years ago. Jane- sometimes known as the Chimpanzee Lady- celebrated (this past July 2010) 50 years of research on the Chimpanzees of Gombe National Preserve in Tanzania, Africa. You can learn more about Jane Goodall and her work by clicking on the following link: The Jane Goodall Institute

Jane Goodall first went to Africa when she was 23 years old, and went to work as a secretary for the anthropologist Louis Leakey, with the hope of getting her foot in the door and to maybe work with the animals. She got her chance and, in 1960, at the age of 26, she went to Gombe to study the chimpanzees.

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She has been their spokesperson ever since –giving talks, not just about the chimps, or about deforestation and the loss of their habitat, but also about how we should live in harmony with each other and caring for the world around us.

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I first read about Jane Goodall, I’m sure, from the National Geographic- a magazine that was always a part of our household when I was growing up. Later, when I was in high school, I read her book “In The Shadow of Man” and I, too, had visions of running away to Africa. But more, I was struck by her research on the similarities of behavior between the chimpanzees she studied, and humans.

I was, by that time, already interested in people and their behavior, and I have always had a love of nature and animals. Jane, with her observations and comparisons, wove the threads that became my first appreciation of the interconnectedness of all beings in this great web of life.

Jane Goodall’s work has always been very holistic. She quickly realized that to care for her beloved chimps, meant not only caring for their environment, but caring for the people of Africa, and all peoples, and indeed, the whole earth. Her work includes such diverse programs as her Roots and Shoots program – a world wide, grass roots, get involved program for children - to promoting shade grown coffee grown on the hills surrounding Gombe.

Jane Goodall’s talk in Houston was sponsored by the group, the Progressive Forum, whose slogan is “Great Minds. Great answers.” (I just LOVE that).

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(No pictures were allowed, so I am including some that I pulled off the internet.)

Jane spoke about her time in Gombe, but she also spoke about those who had supported and nurtured her work and her desire to be a scientist at a time when it was not the norm for women. She spoke about her mother who recognized her curiosity as a child and encouraged it and who told her that “she could do anything that she wanted to do, if she wanted it badly enough”. And how we should likewise encourage our young people. She also noted that her mom accompanied her to Gombe, helping her ‘settle in’ and staying the first 4 months. : )

Jane spoke of the problems facing the world today and why she has reason for ‘hope’ and of her faith in mankind to find solutions to these problems. She spoke of the small things that each of us could do and how we should just “roll up our sleeves and get busy doing something” rather than just reading about or talking about it. It is really about living ‘mindfully’ – about the choices that we make…large and small…..what we eat, what we drive….how we live day to day…….making those choices mindful of their impact of those around us and with the intent to decrease our environmental footprint.

Jane’s talk was inspiring……. as was her presence. Jane, at 76 years old, is vigorous (she travels, giving lectures, over 300 days a year) and expressive and enthusiastic. She talked for 1 1/2 hours without any notes, and was absolutely captivating. Jane seems to be so comfortable with herself, without the need for pretension. She wore simple, comfortable clothes, no make-up, and her hair, naturally greying, still pulled back in a pony tail.

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Jane Goodall is a wonderful example of living an ‘authentic’ life – recognizing who we are, and finding something that we are passionate about, and then doing it…… and never forgetting our responsibility to be a good steward of the earth.

Jane stayed after the program, signing books. Fred and I stood in line to have my book signed, an absolute ‘first’ for me (first time EVER to stand in line to have an author sign their book). I will admit to feeling quite star struck and tongue tied, but this was a night that I will treasure.


  1. SO glad that you got to see her! And even get your book signed! How cool! She struck me the same way - so confident and comfortable with herself and so inspiring. She really has a "can do" attitude in combination with a great world view. An amazing woman. Did she make her chimp sounds for you?

  2. Fantastic! I've always wanted to hear her speak and may have the opportunity in the next year. I better get on it. None of us is getting any younger.

  3. I'm so glad that you wrote about this experience. Of course, I've heard of her - who hasn't? - (probably in NatGeo) but don't think I've read any of her books. Sounds like a fascinating program. Even better since you got her to autograph your book!

  4. I recently read a book by her that changed my life. Harvest of Hope. I have read so many books on sustainable food, but her approach really spurred me to action in her understanding, compassionate way. She's so personal sounding in the book, I wish I could see her speak!

  5. I am currently reading Harvest of Hope, too. It IS a really great book, and, yes, she is really amazing!