Page One

Meeting Jane Goodall

By Sherry Bridgman
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:16:00 AM

It was my job, when I was working some 30 years ago, to present our membership with speakers about subjects on the natural history of animals, once a month throughout the year. This also included one special presentation of a speaker with renowned recognition in the field of animal behavior.  

One year I engaged Jane Goodall, renowned ethologist, to speak about her continuing research on chimpanzees at Gombe Stream in Tanzania, in east Africa.  

An auditorium was rented that accommodated 1,000 people; press releases were sent out, members notified through our monthly newsletter that Jane Goodall would do a lecture on her ongoing research.  

A biology teacher at Burlingame High called me and said he was bringing 10 of his students to the lecture. He said the kids were very excited as they were studying animal biology. His second question: Could they meet Jane after the lecture backstage for 30 minutes? I knew Jane really liked young people and was then often organizing educational tools in animal study with them in mind. I told him I would send a wire and ask the question.  

Within a week I received a reply that she would be delighted to meet with them for half an hour.  

Jane was flying in from London the day of the lecture. She was staying with a friend in San Francisco, and the friend would also pick her up at the airport. The plane was very late, but they made it to the auditorium about 30 minutes before the lecture. Jane introduced her friend to me as Countess. I took them upstairs to the lounge to freshen up, and for Jane to consult with the projectionist who would be working her slides from the projection booth. She handed him her slides that she had wrapped in rubber band. He then chatted with her, and tried to slip the slides into the slide tray. 

They wouldn’t fit. They were too thick. He told me we needed another type of tray. He said that these are slides they use in Europe. He said to go to Stonestown, which was only a few blocks away, and maybe the camera shop would still be open, and I could purchase one. I rushed over to the camera shop, which was just about to close, and they had one of the European trays. What luck!  

I rushed back with a few minutes to spare. Her friend, the Countess, was with Jane in the lounge; she pulled me aside and started in on me. She said, “You know, Jane is very tired, she just got off the plane after a 12-hour flight from London,” and that I should shorten the lecture. She kept after me about how tired Jane was. Jane didn’t say much, just sort of ignored her. At that moment the zoo director came to take Jane backstage, where she would wait until he introduced her. The Countess followed along still complaining to me. I told her that I could do nothing at this point to shorten the lecture. She then went into the same chatter about how tired Jane was. She also sat backstage while Jane was speaking. The lecture over, Jane took several questions from the audience for about 15 minutes, and then it ended with the enthusiastic sound of applause from the audience. I met Jane backstage and reminded her about the young people with their teacher from high school. She said she remembered and to bring them back, which I did. Jane had neglected to tell the Countess about this saga. She told Jane she did not have to do this because she was so tired that the children would understand.  

By that time the high schoolers were all backstage and were asking their questions, which she affectionately answered with lots of information for each question. She was so sweet, and smiled many times. The Countess had me cornered, angrily protesting. She reminded me, as she had done several times already, that Jane was very tired, just got off the plane, etc.  

Within half an hour, the students thanked her and left, wishing her well in her research. It was over. Whew!  



Postscript: Several months ago a person contacted me who is a friend of Jane’s asking me if I had Diane Fossey’s hardback book of Gorillas in the Mist, and if it was signed. I indicated that it was. He purchased the book to give to Jane. I told him about this story, and he said Jane would like to read it, so I sent this story along with the book.