The event sold out in the first few hours, but it wasn’t what you’d expect. There were no rock stars, flashing lights or dramatic performances, but when Jane Goodall took the stage on Oct. 8, she received a roaring standing ovation.
As she stood at the podium in front of the red and gold curtains of the Mount Baker Theatre, the world renowned chimpanzee expert thanked the audience for giving her energy.
“What gives me the strength to carry on?” she said. “It’s people like you.”
Goodall said she travels 300 days out of the year even though she hates traveling because she feels she must do this work. She said she is revitalized when people tell her how she’s inspired them.
Audience member and Bellingham resident Susanne Daniell said she has always been inspired by Goodall’s work.
“I had the pleasure of hearing her speak about 20 years ago,” she said. “I’m a biologist and so she’s been an inspiration my whole life, both as a woman and a field biologist.”
In her lecture, Goodall told stories from her lengthy career that brought her to this point.
After connecting with Kenyan paleontologist Louis Leakey, Goodall worked as a secretary and studied chimpanzees alongside him. Goodall said she would have studied just about any animal, but feels lucky she was to study chimps, some of our closest genetic relatives.
Goodall said while working together,Leakey insisted she get a formal education. After he made arrangements, Goodall skipped her undergraduate degree and went straight for a Ph.D. at Cambridge University where she studied ethology, the science of animal behavior.
As a woman in a historically male-dominated field, Goodall also talked about the challenges of her early life as a female scientist in the 1950s and 1960s. She said she was just 23 when she embarked on her first trip to Africa.
Goodall credited her perseverance in the field to her mother, Margaret Myfanwe Joseph, who always supported her scientific curiosity. She said if it wasn’t for her encouragement, her inquisitive nature may have been crushed.
These days, Goodall said she dedicates her time to speaking engagements and her two organizations, The Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots.
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global conservation organization is committed to keeping Goodall’s work and vision alive. According to their website, the JGI works to preserve the habitats of African great apes, with an emphasis on chimpanzees. They believe that by doing this, they improve the lives of people, animals and the environment.
Roots & Shoots is a youth service program for young people. Goodall said she believes conservation won’t work unless young people have fun, so this organization aims to encourage involvement in service-learning projects all over the country.
Goodall also spoke about local environmental issues. She said the Salish Sea is one of Bellingham’s greatest treasures, so it’s important to not take it for granted, and encouraged the audience to protect the marine life and the surrounding areas.
“What an amazing place you live in,” she said. “People are coming together to protect something so important and so beautiful.”
Goodall was brought to Bellingham by the Western Fraser Lecture Series, a series made possible by an estate gift left to Western by Gordon and Alice Fraser.
Senior Director at Western’s Foundation Mark Bagley said in their will, Bus and Alice Fraser said they wanted to provide educational experiences for students and faculty. Bagley said the funds they donated are used to support lectures, seminars and workshops to Western’s community.
Dr. David Sattler, a professor of psychology at Western and the event organizer, said he believed Goodall would be a popular guest speaker because of the many students interested in environmentalism and conservation.
“She’s devoted her life to not only studying chimpanzees and national forests but also to designing programs for children to help develop their awe and wonder about nature and the natural world,” Sattler said.
Goodall’s lecture was punctuated with humor and the occasional animal noise. Her message was one of hope, environmental awareness and action as she urged the young people in the audience to get involved and asked the older generations to make changes too.
“We can unlock our human potential when head and heart work in harmony,” she said.