My weekend with Dr. Jane

Accompanying Dame Goodall during her Cranbrook soujourn

She’s like the world’s beloved grandmother. When Dr. Jane Goodall arrived in Cranbrook she reduced many to glassy-eyed stares of admiration and gushing thank-yous.

I knew all about Dr. Jane, but I must say I didn’t really know what to expect. I viewed her with the eyes of a journalist, watching her mannerisms and facial expressions for colour in a story later on.

What I noticed about her that struck me the most is her genuine enjoyment as she toured rooms full of people she’d never met. When a teacher at the St. Eugene cried upon shaking her hand, Dr. Jane patted her on the arm, and softly said to her, “The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.”

It was a grandmother’s embrace, one I could imagine my own saying. This was at the first event I covered, and it was a perfect introduction to Dr. Jane.

At all four events I attended with camera in hand, Jane was a quiet and beautiful woman, staying still at the podium, which she said she’d learned to do. And at all four events, there was a little girl in a yellow dress named Aurora.

I watched Dr. Jane’s eyes follow Aurora wherever she went. Prior to an address of gathered sponsors, Aurora was restless having sat at a speech already that day. Her yellow dress was skewed, and her hair was a bit messy in the way you’d expect of a little girl.

She began running up and down the Key City Theatre stairs, bounding noisily playing a game that was happening in her head. She had a big smile on her face, and all the while, Dr. Jane watched. I wonder what Aurora was pretending – was she a chimpanzee in Gombe Stream National Park? Was she an elephant thundering through the African plains? Or was she a leopard bounding from limb to limb in the rainforest?

Dr. Jane’s face broke into a wide grin and her eyes lit up watching the little girl play. She gestured to Jane Lawton, CEO of the Jane Goodall Institute, pointing out the imaginary game happening before them. Then she pulled out a camera, and snapped a picture of Aurora mid-leap onto a nearby couch.

During several of her speeches, Dr. Jane said it was the very youth she hoped to empower that made her able to travel 300 days a year. As she watched Aurora, I realized this was so very true.

Not only does Dr. Jane do this for the youth, she gets energy from them. She genuinely enjoys watching them imagine, create and achieve things.

I don’t think Aurora knew Dr. Jane had photographed her. I don’t even think she knew who Dr. Jane was or why her mother had taken her along that day. I hope somehow she knows later on in life that a woman that has inspired millions was instead invigorated to continue her mission to change the world, just by simply watching her pretend. Her game, whatever it was, gave Dr. Jane Goodall strength for another day to continue inspiring youth around the world.

When Dr. Jane stepped up to the microphone, she again looked poised, wise and spoke softly, yet she had everyone hanging on her words. Aurora continued to play nearby.

Aurora sat behind me at the speech later on. She was tired, curled up with her head on her mother’s lap. It was a long day but for Dr. Jane, her evening had really just begun, thanks to a little girl named Aurora.