So there I sat in the hotel lobby, wearing garments worn only occasionally and thus feeling uncomfortable. Make no mistake. Heather had ironed my clothes to perfection, and I think I looked quite stylish in my tweed jacket.
But you can’t plan for everything. Sweat beaded my brow after walking through the construction frenzy that is Vancouver, with delays caused by the Madonna concert scheduled for that evening, and the 50,000 people arriving for it. Check in, change, then another brisk walk to meet Jane Goodall at her hotel…7 city blocks away.
Okay, so I’m there, reasonably composed and exactly on time. At the reception desk are several attendants and people checking in.“Yes sir, may I help you?”
Yes, I understand you have Dr. Jane Goodall staying here?“Oh” (eyes-immediately-wide-open) “is she expecting you?”
Yes.“What’s your name? I’ll call her room. …oh I’m so sorry, sir… there’s no answer…but you’re welcome to wait.”
“In that case”, said I, “might Madonna be in?”
After we all stopped laughing they brought me some tea.
The moment happens. Jane appears in the door a few minutes later with her two companions. I think how on earth is she going to recognize me? But she does.
I offer a hand and she says “I feel I already know you a great deal better than that” so I get a warm hug and chaste kiss on the cheek. Wow.
Where to go for lunch? Jane says “we can either do Chinese take-out, but why don’t we just go up to my room and get some room service?” So that’s what we did. We had carrot soup (which was fantastic) and salads and bread. I was amused when she insisted that I remove the table brought in by room service.
“I feel more comfortable with my food where I can see it’, she said. “c’mon, we’re supposed to be field people, for heavens sake…if you can’t hold food on your lap we’re not very advanced compared to animals, are we?” We became good friends over the next two hours, trading stories about everything from politics to education to the similarities across nations, cultures and species.
I asked about her work schedule and how the book was coming, and whether she really did spend three hundred days/year on the road. “Of course, she said, I have no time for writing, and every time I turn around I need to revamp stories such as yours, that need to be told.”
By this time I felt I needed to let her get some rest, knowing that 78 year-old Jane had flown in the night before from London, done two media interviews and three school-children events already, had scheduled time for me, and then had the reception at 5:00, lecture at 7:00, and book-signing at 9:30, before flying out at 8:00 the next morning for California.
What extraordinary fortitude!
She said “but we must have a picture”. I had not brought my camera (a rare event) because I imagined that she must be sick and tired of cameras. She appreciated that and allowed that she was, indeed, tired of cameras. But I had indeed brought a small gift…
Heather and I had discussed this for days. A can of genuine maple syrup might not be appropriate for a lady that spends months on the road. Copies of the newly published recovery strategy might be boring. A framed print might go un-used. How about a plush marmot toy?
So out of the laptop bag came the plush marmot and Jane’s eyes brightened. “Oh my, how wonderful…this is truly lovely. I had taken care to bring her a new, bagged, as-shipped copy, with all the tags intact. “But this will never do…animals should never wear tags”. So she carefully went into the bathroom, retrieved a pair of nail scissors, and studiously removed all the tags, including the nice photo of yours truly. “Now this will be a nice companion to Edgar D”, who was another plush toy sitting on her desk. Then Jane insisted upon calling her fellow globetrotter and co-author Mary Lewis, to arrange that we be photographed together with the now-untagged marmot.
By the time I got back to our hotel (the Pan-Pacific), there was barely enough time to get more formally dressed and head back to the private reception and public lecture at the Center for the Performing Arts.
Formal receptions are just that. Books, jewellery and other fund-raising tools. An absolutely magnificent venue. Jane told me that she hated those kinds of events the most. I understand why.
Having met her, I can say that Jane is a quiet, unassuming, funny, personal woman who would like nothing more than to do what she enjoys most. Which is to enjoy nature, and African wildlife in particular. Watching her move through a crowd of well-wishers made me cringe, even with her two not-so-obvious but well-trained attending bodyguards.
I had suggested to Heather that we hang back from the crowd, and perhaps she might not personally get to meet Jane. I, of course, was lying through my teeth. Heather got to shake Jane’s hand and exchange introductions, a fact that gladdens my heart.
Fast forward to 7:15 PM. We’ve got the very best center-row seats in row F, but we’ve been watching the same photoshop slide show for 25 minutes. The show was scheduled to start at 7:00. The theatre is, I think, about 70-80% full. Panic sets in. Gee whiz, Andrew, did your overly-long lunch wear her out?
A technician nonchalantly wanders onto the stage and deposits a chair, containing 3 plush toys of endangered species. One is a spotted owl, one is her mascot chimpanzee that has followed her on decades of speaking tours, and one is (oh my heavens) a Vancouver Island marmot…
And then Jane Goodall comes on, dressed simply in black with contrasting cape. She proceeds to give one of the most staggering, compelling, emotionally resonant and technically accurate talks I have ever heard.
Not a note in sight. No slide show or fancy graphics. One and a half hours without a sip of water. The perfect symmetry of style, humour and substance. The fundamental message being that there IS hope, and that she gathers her strength precisely by travelling around the world and meeting people who strive to make a difference…by this time I’m almost weeping…
…and then she held up the marmot plush toy, mentioned me by name in front of 500 people, described our lunch and how meeting people kept her inspired…
By this time I had lost it completely, and I think Heather had too. It only dawned on me later that the reason the start of the lecture was delayed was that Jane (or someone) had to go back to retrieve the marmot from Jane’s hotel room.
That’s my report.
To say that I felt honoured and privileged would be an understatement…