Dr. Jane Goodall keynotes "Women in Science" luncheon for Field Museum

Wearing a chimpanzee pin on her black sweater and a necklace bearing a charm shaped like Africa, Jane Goodall, primatologist, conservationist and human rights champion, addressed the sellout crowd of over 1000 during the Field Museum's "Women in Science Luncheon" at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on April 3.

The afternoon began with a welcome by Richard Lariviere, Field Museum president/CEO. He spoke about the Museum's many successes and achievements including having 2 million acres in the Peruvian rain forest dedicated as the Yagos National Park as a direct result of efforts by the Museum's field scientists.

Susan Clark McBride, Field Museum Women's Board president, called her job the "best gig in town" and asked the WB members to stand after acknowledging the event's co-chairs, WB members Julie Goff and Tonja Hall. She announced that the luncheon raised over $400,000 with proceeds benefiting a variety of programs through its "Women in Science" initiative. McBride introduced Dr. Corrie Moreau, the Robert A. Pritzker Director of the Integrative Research Center.

Moreau, who conducted a Q & A with Dr. Goodall following the scientist's keynote address, called meeting her a "privilege and a personal career highlight." She said that Goodall spends over 300 days annually on the road on speaking tours and that she visited 22 countries last year alone.

Goodall, a beautiful woman who celebrated her 84th birthday on the same day as the luncheon, shows no signs of slowing down. Her elegant silver hair was pulled back in a full pony-tail and her blue eyes still sparkled with mischief and curiosity. A colorful shawl, that I suspect is African, was draped casually around her slender shoulders atop a black top and slacks. On the podium, she had placed 3 stuffed animals. One, Mr. H, is a bit of a celebrity.

Goodall explained receiving the stuffed chimp from a Marine vet who had lost his eyesight at age 21. The toy is named after him, Gary Horn, who, after losing his sight, decided to become a magician. She said his name, Mr. H., also stand for 'hope' and that the toy has been to 63 countries and touched by 5 million people.

She opened her speech, an hour long and delivered with no notes, with loud monkey hoots, that she said was a form of greeting in the primate world. She talked about the impact, inspiration and encouragement her mother always provided her with. When she was just 4 years-old, she recalled crawling inside a henhouse and disappearing for hours trying to discover how eggs were laid. Her mother called the police but, after she arrived home safely, instead of scolding Jane her mother wanted to hear her story.

Jane's future seemed to be predestined. In 1952, she left school to take a job as a secretary. On a visit to see a childhood friend who lived in Kenya, she was introduced to paleontologist/fossil hunter Louis Leakey. He had lost his secretary the week before and so Jane's story begins...

After Leakey observed her work in the field, he hired her for a research project he'd been planning for years, a long-term immersive study of chimpanzees in the wild. She recalled him telling her, "you are the person I've been looking for...for years."

A highlight of her career was the discovery that animals (chimpanzees) use tools. She witnessed a chimp (one she named David Greybeard) in the wild, not only using a tool but making one too--a twig, stripped of leaves to spoon termites out of a nest. She recalled, "At that time, it was thought that humans, and only humans, used and made tools. I had been told from school onward that the best definition of a human being was "man the tool maker", yet I had just watched a chimp in action." Goodall telegraphed Leakey, her boss, with the news. His response has since become the stuff of scientific legend: "Now we must redefine man, redefine tools, or accept chimpanzees as humans."

She spoke about being scolded by professors and scientists for giving her chimps names and suggested that they should've been given numbers. But she argued that she had a wonderful teacher as a child who taught her otherwise--that animals do have distinct personalities, that they can think and have emotions. That teacher was her dog Rusty.

At the end of Goodall's inspiring talk and following Moreau's short Q & A, the crowd surprised her by singing happy birthday and presenting her with a cake. She said her sister Judy's birthday is on the same day, only a few years earlier, so she dedicated the cake to her and made a silent wish. (See video here)

Goodall closed the luncheon with, "The indomitable human spirit is what will get us through if we care two hoots about our future."

Earlier in the day, Dr. Goodall engaged with 40 young women from CPS. The students were from Eric Solorio High School, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, and the ITW David Speer Academy.

The day's activities concluded with an evening VIP reception at the Museum, where Dr. Goodall unveiled the monument narrative sculpture by renowned portraitist, Marla Friedman in honor of her 84th birthday. The sculpture, titled "The Red Palm Nut," depicts the moment when Dr. Goodall (then a 26-year-old field researcher) extended her hand to offer a red palm nut to David Greybeard, the first wild chimpanzee to allow Dr. Goodall to come close and the same chimp that made her greatest discovery a reality, an animal making and using tools.

The Jane Goodall Institute, founded in 1977, is a global conservation organization that protects chimps by supporting sanctuaries and inspires people to conserve the natural world and improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. To date, over 34 institutes have been established around the world. (To learn more and/or to donate, click here).

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