Remembering a dear friend

Exactly 5 years have gone by since Washoe passed away. She has been on all our minds today, and I’m sure thousands of others all over the world. Washoe had many friends through her lifetime and admirers from all corners of the globe. When she passed away, there were news reports on every continent but Antartica.

I didn’t know Washoe personally for very long, as I first came to CHCI in 2005. But I had heard about her my entire life. My parents were students at CWU when the chimpanzees first arrived in the early 80s. It was a no-brainer where I was going to go to college when the time came, and of course, one of the first things I did was go knock on CHCI’s door to get a volunteer application. I had no idea that my whole life would change.

I developed a passion for all living things and became a huge chimpanzee advocate, all thanks to Washoe. She showed me that we are not so different from chimpanzees, and taught me to take everyone—chimpanzee and human alike—on their own terms. She taught me humility and made me appreciate the small things. When you spend your days caring for beings that are completely dependent on your dedication and willingness, you begin to realize all the day-to-day things we take for granted.

Washoe and her family are ambassadors for chimpanzees everywhere who deserve to be treated not as lesser beings, but instead respected for who they are. They cannot speak for themselves, so in honor of Washoe, I speak up for them. I am grateful to her for teaching me my place in the world and empowering me to become an advocate for all living things. As Roger said in Next of Kin, “It was Washoe who taught me that human is only an adjective that describes being. The essence of who I am is not in my humanness, but in my beingness.”

I asked other CHCI staff who knew Washoe to write some of their thoughts for her today:

“Remembering one of the planet’s greatest women. Loulis’ mom and a dear friend to many. Her patience and strength is a model to live by.” – Mary Lee Jensvold

“Washoe was the kind of friend who wouldn’t let you wallow in self-pity.  She was an honest friend who insisted on your best.  The biggest lesson that Washoe taught me was that being human didn’t make me special, it makes me accountable. There are others who are depending on me to use this human brain to do good and I owe it to them and to Washoe to do as much good as I can.” – Bonnie Hendrickson

“Something I’ve been working on lately is trying to live my life in the moment. One thing that death does well is to remind you that this moment is all you have, and it is fleeting. I’d like to tell you about the last moment I had with my friend, Washoe. On the day that she died I had been working in the building all day. I would work then take a quick break to say hello and offer her soup or crackers or a drink of water. After some quiet time, I would head back to work again. By the end of the day I had spent a good number of breaks with her so for a minute I thought about just heading home and seeing my friend tomorrow. To be honest I don’t know what stopped me from doing that but I know I’ll always be grateful that I didn’t. I went in and I said, “Goodnight, Washoe, love you,” and then I went home. It didn’t take long, five minutes, at most. Then she was gone and I had nothing to regret because I took the time to tell my friend how much she meant to me. That’s a lesson that Washoe taught me every single day of her life. Don’t take this moment for granted. Use it, fill it up with everything that makes life worth living because this moment is it.” – Lisa Schuster Lyons

“There was just something about Washoe, her poise, her kind-heartedness, her confidence, she took charge but led in a calm way – she was a strong woman.  She influenced me in so many ways, but mostly she taught me that chimpanzees do not belong in medical research. Looking into her eyes and realizing that could have easily been her fate, made me realize how wrong it is to subject chimpanzees to such torture.” – Shannon Wallin

We miss you, Washoe. HUG/LOVE.

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About Debbie Metzler

Debbie began working with chimpanzees in 2005 at CHCI while she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Central Washington University. She continued on to earn a master's degree in primate behavior, and her thesis research focused on vocabulary growth in adult signing chimpanzees. She coordinates the volunteer end of CHCI's education program and outreach efforts. She also is working on an advocacy program to help put an end to the exploitation of other chimpanzees.
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3 Responses to Remembering a dear friend

  1. Andrea says:

    Good one, Debbie! I regret never meeting Washoe but I am so happy to have spent that wonderful summer with the other guys there at the CHCI…

  2. Benjamin Pavsner says:

    How do Tatu, Dar and Loulis remember Washoe and Moja? I imagine they have some memory of them, especially since Loulis was Washoe’s adopted son.

    • Debbie says:

      Great question. Since we can’t really get inside their heads, I don’t have a straight answer. But you are right, I imagine that they do have memory of them and we still talk about Washoe and Moja occasionally. Once I showed some art to Tatu and asked her who painted it and she replied, MOJA. They still see pictures and sometimes videos of Washoe and Moja, too.

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