A girl's curiosity nurtured expertise

Primatologist Jane Goodall credits her mother with cultivating her life of learning.

Published March 23, 2005

TAMPA - At the age of 18 months, she sneaked earthworms into her bed so she could study them.

At 4, she hid out in a henhouse, wanting to witness one of nature's miracles. Her family launched a search and called police.

The inquisitive little girl emerged hours later, but she didn't get scolded. Instead, her mother just listened.

"She saw my shining eyes and heard this wonderful story of how a hen lays an egg," the little girl, now a 70-year-old woman with silver hair, said Tuesday.

Jane Goodall, the world's authority on chimpanzees, told a crowd of hundreds at the Girl Scouts' Women of Distinction luncheon that her mother's belief in her helped her achieve her dreams.

Goodall's mother, Vanne, was her woman of distinction - the person who made a difference in her life, she said.

"I had an amazing mother who encouraged me, a mother who encouraged this curiosity," Goodall said. "I don't remember anybody in my house telling me I couldn't do anything because I was a girl."

About 700 people attended the event to honor four local women who serve as role models for girls. They laughed and dabbed at tears over a dessert of key lime pie and Girl Scout cookies as Goodall shared stories of research, hope and role models.

She began her speech by letting out a loud chimpanzee greeting, sending an "oooh oooh aah aah" throughout the A La Carte Event Pavilion.

Her hair pulled back in a low ponytail, she spoke fondly of her lifelong research of chimpanzees.

"Chimps are more like us than any living creature," she said. "Like humans, they have to learn from observation, imitation, trial and error." They experience emotion, passion and compassion.

She talked of an elderly chimpanzee mother who scared two strong young male chimps away from her son, of a sister chimp who carried her baby brother up a tree to save him from a poisonous snake.

Goodall brought some in the audience to tears with the story of a chimp who was being chased by other chimps in a zoo and fell into a moat.

A man visiting the zoo with his family jumped in and tried to rescue him as the other chimps moved in and as observers screamed for the man to get out. After several attempts, the man was finally able to help the chimp to safety.

When asked later why he did it, he replied, "It was like looking into the eyes of a man."

Goodall urged the Girl Scouts to adopt her foundation's Roots & Shoots program, which engages and inspires youths through community service and service learning.

The global program emphasizes the principle that knowledge leads to compassion, which inspires action, she said.

"If we all join hands and hearts, we can make a difference," Goodall said. "Change the world for our children and theirs before it's too late."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at 813 226-3403 or nguyen@sptimes.com


The Girl Scouts of Suncoast Council's 2005 Women of Distinction are: Sally Lowry Baldwin, a community volunteer, founding chair of the Lowry Park Zoological Society and founding chair of the Lowry Park Zoo Endowment Foundation. Lowry Park was named in honor of her grandfather, Sumter L. Lowry.

Karen Brown Dunlap, president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a trustee at Poynter and a member of the board of directors of the Times Publishing Co.

Ruth Binnicker Eckerd, chair of the Eckerd Family Foundation and a longtime community volunteer. Her late husband, Jack Eckerd, founded the Eckerd national drugstore chain.

Dorothy S. Mitchell, a longtime Pasco County philanthropist and a former member of the Pasco County School Board.