Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jane Goodall made me cry

I came face to face with one of my heroes this weekend. When I was little, I wanted to work with wild animals particularly the endearing chimpanzees. Then I wanted to save the rainforests. Now, I'm in Calgary just trying to save useful waste from the garbage and making worm compost out of it instead. However there is a woman who fulfilled her childhood ambitions and beyond.  Dr. Jane Goodall is someone I have long admired and I went to see her give a serious, sometimes humorous account of her life's work in front of a sell-out crowd at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. This sprightly but soft spoken woman pursued her dream to go into the jungles of Africa to study chimpanzees. She did this at the start of the new decade of the 60's when she was only twenty-six, and way back when single woman didn't do that sort of thing. A mix of her own determination, the belief of others in her, and the hand of fate gave her the opportunity to study our closest cousins without the usual requisite fancy university degrees.
Jane Goodall
She went on to observe that chimpanzees like us, display emotion; both good and bad, have the ability to fashion tools and pass their group's culture on from one generation to the next. In fact chimpanzees biologically, have more in common with humans than they do gorillas. Unfortunately, the one thing we have mastered that the other great apes don't share with us, is destroying theirs and our own habitat -yet we are supposed to be the most intelligent.

The venerable Dr. Jane Goodall is not a household name in some parts, but she should be. She is now seventy six years old and it would take way too long to list her achievements and talk about her tireless commitment to conservation issues. But do check out her Roots and Shoots program.

Jane Goodall talks to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show

Jane Goodall seems amazingly gracious and patient with her time. Nearly everyone in that auditorium bought something to be signed by her. When they ran out of books, people "fought" over tote bags and t-shirts. When they ran out of those, people willingly donated $5 towards the Jane Goodall Institute for a handout to have her signature. However, I wasn't one of them; I looked at the massive queue snaking out the main doors and resigned myself to leaving without ever meeting her.
Just as I was about to walk away, someone at the now empty stall announced they had discovered one more book -"In the shadow of man." I was momentarily stunned by this bit of luck then snapped it up. I went to the very back of the queue and shuffled along reading passages of her first journey to Gombe to study chimpanzees.

Jane Goodall had to have been signing various articles of paraphernalia and smiling for the camera for at least an hour and half by the time I rolled up to stand beside her. She has to be one of the most beautiful people I've ever encountered. Not only physically, but in spirit as well. It might have been with relief in her eyes when she looked at me, glad she was nearing the end of the line up, yet joking aside, she looked right at me, right into me and touched something that turned the emotional tap on. I'm welling up now thinking about her smile and her indescribable non-verbal communication. I know many people left that night feeling they had encountered someone very special; I want to say a saint, because for her amazing work alone and then the graciousness and kindness she showed that night she, in my mind,  had the aura of a saint.  And miraculously her writing was still legible after her innumerable nth signing.........


  1. I'm so glad you got to see her speak! I didn't realize she was back in Calgary. I have a B.Sc degree in Primatology (study of primates) and it's because of Jane Goodall. I'm normally not a loud person, but the first time I saw her speak I was so compelled to ask a question that I stood on my chair, jumped up and down yelling "pick me" much to the embarrassment of my friends (she did and I got to ask my question). Jane Goodall is really that moving! I have 2 books signed by her and they are among my prized possessions. She has changed the way we think about animals, conservation and pursuing our dreams. I'm so glad you got to see her speak and I'm so glad that people recognize her for the incredible woman she is!

  2. Wow, that's fantastic you pursued a degree in Primatology. Did you go on field trips? I spoke with some volunteers at the event who are students at UofC and they told of trips to Belize. I was quite envious having never got round to pursuing my childhood dream of studying zoology. But I believe each of us still can make positive impacts on the world around us - we need to- and Jane Goodall is a mighty inspiration.