JGI Commemorates Genevieve di San Faustino, Founding President

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is saddened to announce the passing of its founding president, Genevieve di San Faustino. A champion for the environment, the fine arts and those less fortunate, Genie, as she was known to friends, passed away at her home in San Francisco, California, on Friday, March 11, 2011. She was 91.

Genie—together with Jane—was a major force behind JGI’s creation. Genie and Jane formed a close bond when they first met over dinner in San Francisco in the fall of 1975. Later, Jane, her mother Vanne, and Genie and her husband, Prince Ranieri di San Faustino, discussed the idea of establishing an organization to provide long-term support for the chimpanzee behavioral research at Gombe National Park, as well as related projects. From this conversation, the concept for the Jane Goodall Institute was born. In 1977, Genie became JGI's founding president, and she continued to support the Institute for the rest of her life.

Genie was defined by her generosity, zest for life and dedication to helping others. She is survived by her sons, Michael and Lyman, and their wives, five grandchildren, twelve great grandchildren, a stepson, and five nephews and nieces. She will be greatly missed by everyone at the Jane Goodall Institute and all who knew her.

Learn more about Genie's extraordinary life.

A memorial service for Genevieve di San Faustino was held today, Friday, March 26, at 11:00 a.m. at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Dr. Goodall wrote a wonderful tribute that was read at the service (see below). Susan Sakmar, former chair of the JGI-USA Board of Directors, attended as a representative of the Institute as Dr. Goodall’s tour obligations made it impossible for her to be there. 

Tribute to Genie di San Faustino
Founding President—the Jane Goodall Institute

23rd March 2011

Dear, dear Genie.

What a wonderful friend she was—I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.
So too do all the hundreds of people now impacted by the programs of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) around the world. But for Genie, the chimpanzee behavioural research at Gombe might have ended more than 30 years ago. For it was Genie who started JGI back in 1976 when, after the kidnapping of four of my students, we lost the support of our major funder. At that terrible time, Genie and Ranieri were towers of strength and, together, began working on ways to help. Ranieri died before JGI was officially incorporated in 1977, and I think it helped Genie through that difficult time to continue the work that they had begun together.

The first board meetings were held in her house and, for the rest of her life, Genie—our Founder President—was incredibly supportive and involved. To help raise funds and to introduce me to potential donors, she hosted many small dinner parties and lunches and a couple of cocktail parties in her marvellous house in San Francisco. She more than deserved the the Jane Goodall Lifetime Achievement Award that I was honoured to present to her at a dinner at her home.

However, it is not just as founding president and supporter of JGI that I think most fondly of Genie, but also as a friend. A wonderful friend not only to me, but to my family. To my husband Derek Bryceson and, most especially, to my mother Vanne (short for Myfanwe, pronounced Van). During the years I was teaching at Stanford, every fall quarter I rented a house so my son could be with me and Vanne came over to keep things going. I had already got to know Genie and Ranieri when they visited Gombe and I remember inviting them to supper to meet Vanne. They instantly “clicked” and began talking nineteen to the dozen—with the result that the dinner over which Vanne had slaved was burnt to a cinder and they ended up with scrambled eggs on toast.

It was very different when we all went to Genie’s enchanting house, with its myriad of fascinating treasures collected by Genie over the years, the antique furniture and the marvellous garden. In those early days, there were two little dogs who used to lie on round blue cushions in her bright kitchen where shining pans hung above the counter and where Geraldine presided for so many years. I used to stay with Genie every time I was in town.

Several times Genie visited my home in England where, of course, she instantly enchanted the rest of the family. But my fondest memories of Genie and Vanne are in America. I can close my eyes and see the two tiny ladies immersed in conversation and laughter—in San Francisco, Ridgefield, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. Genie was always beautifully dressed with her tiny black or red leather miniskirts and silver necklets—and it was typical of her thoughtfulness that whenever I visited she always remembered to wear the one made of Zanzibar silver that Derek and I gave her.

Even when she was in a good deal of pain during the last years of her life, she was always sparkling when I visited, wanting to know how things were going, quickly diverting the conversation away from her. By then I was usually travelling with Mary Lewis—initially it was Genie who made this possible. They too became friends and Genie was the first person to call last year when Mary had surgery in London, checking daily on her progress in hospital despite her own pain.

I miss Genie so much. It is hard to imagine I can no longer pick up the phone, wherever I am in the world, and hear her voice at the other end, warming to joy as she realized who it was. Difficult to believe that when I next visit San Francisco I shall not be able to climb those steps into that marvellous old house and the warmth of Genie’s presence and friendship. I can only imagine the loss felt by her family and other close friends, and my heart goes out to them all at this sad time.

I count myself blessed that, for 35 years, Genie was part of my life, and I am immensely grateful that I was able to see her a few days before her death to thank her for everything, and tell her how much I loved her. To say goodbye until we meet again in a place where there is no more pain.

Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE
Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute &
UN Messenger of Peace

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