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Dr. Jane Goodall Celebrates Her 84th Birthday in Chicago

The legendary primatologist spoke to CPS students about the moment with a chimpanzee that inspired her career, and saw it memorialized in a statue at the Field Museum.

Jane Goodall in conversation at the Field Museum.   Photo: Zachary James Johnston

Trailblazing scientist Jane Goodall, whose pioneering studies into the social life of chimpanzees made her one of the world’s foremost primatologists, came to town to visit with 80 young women from Chicago Public Schools and deliver the annual keynote address for the Field Museum’s Women in Science group. She was then feted as the guest of honor at an evening birthday celebration in the main hall of the Field Museum—which included the reveal of a statue made in tribute to the moment in the jungle that led her to this point.

She began by addressing the student gathering, joined by students from the Eric Solorio High School in Gage Park, the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Ashburn, the ITW David Speer Academy in North Austin, and the youth organization WorldChicago, along with women leaders in the STEM fields.

“I wanted to start with a lesson,” Goodall said after placing her stuffed chimpanzee, Mr. H., on the podium. “It’s how you say good morning in Chimpanzee. It’s called a pant-hoot, because it’s like a dog panting. Listen carefully, then we’ll do it together.”

Her pant-hoot stirred up giggles from the audience. “Shall we try?” Goodall asked, and the whole room pant-hooted with her.

Given a chance to ask questions, one student inquired about Goodall’s greatest moment with the chimpanzees. “I think the greatest moment is commemorated in my statue, and it is when I held out a palm nut to this chimpanzee David Graybeard,” Goodall said.

Later that evening, at her birthday celebration, the museum revealed the commissioned statue, “The Red Palm Nut: Jane Goodall and David Graybeard,” by Chicago artist Marla Friedman, to more than 1000 people packed in Stanley Field Hall. In her speech before the reveal, Friedman said, “in my mind’s eye, this moment is on par with The Big Bang and is no less that one of the greatest moments in the history of the world.”

jane goodall david graybeard
Photo: Zachary James Johnston

In a conversation with Richard Lariviere, CEO of the Field Museum, Goodall proceeded to describe—and demonstrate—the moment with Graybeard.

“He was going through a tangle of vegetation, which was easy for him but I got caught up with my clothes and my hair, and I had thought I had lost him. When I came through, and he was sitting on the ground looking back, looking as though he was waiting for me. Maybe be he was. So, I sat down on the ground and near us was a bright red palm nut, and chimps love those so I picked it up and I held it out to him on my hand and he turned.”

“Turn your face away,” Goodall commanded Lariviere. “Turn your face away.” Lariviere obeyed. The crowd laughed. “Yes, like that.”

“I put my hand closer, and he turned, looked directly into my eyes, and he reached out, he took the palm nut, he dropped it, but at the same time he took my hand and very gently squeezed my finger, like this, which is how chimpanzees reassure each other.” She squeezed Lariviere’s hand.

“I think it was that moment that made me commit to a lifetime of trying to ensure that chimpanzees continue to survive in the wild,” Goodall said.

Later in their conversation, Goodall and Lariviere discussed her Roots & Shoots youth empowerment program, now operating in 100 countries, which passes that commitment on to students.

“We’ve been stealing, stealing, stealing the future of our children in the way we’ve trashed the environment,” Goodall said. “And so, when young people said, ‘there is nothing we can do about it,’ that’s where I differed. I said, ‘no, we’ve got a window of time. If we all take action now, we can start turning things around.’”

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