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Marietta Danforth
Mar 21, 2024
In Share Your Memory
I’ve struggled this past week with finding the words to summarize over 20 years of wonderful moments that came from knowing Frans de Waal. He was more than a former professor, boss, and mentor. Frans, and his wife, Catherine, feel like family to me. Frans’ and Catherine’s  love and devotion to each other is indescribable with mere words, but I sure did love how every one of his books was dedicated to her, his “favorite primate” and his “rock”. The skills that I use every day in my work trace back to my time working with Frans. I can still vividly remember him standing at my desk in the Capuchin Lab asking me, “So, what do you know about websites?” while holding the manual for Dreamweaver. And I remember thinking, well, I know it’s time to teach myself how to build websites… Frans didn’t just do research, he made it accessible and relatable through websites, books and lecture tours. While organizing his lecture tour for his Our Inner Ape book, Frans approached me one day to say, “The Dalai Lama told me he is giving a keynote for an event on empathy at Rutgers. I think that event would be good for my book tour. Call them and ask if they want me as another speaker.” I remember thinking, right… so you want me to cold call Rutgers and ask them to pay you to crash his Holiness’ event…? But like every single place I contacted for his speaking engagements, Rutgers responded with an incredibly grateful and excited “yes please”. As a 24 year old woman, it was such an empowering experience to learn to cold call people and ask for what you want - and get it. Frans really understood that learning came from experience and doing the work yourself. He knew I was applying to grad schools and offered to let me be first author on a study he was paying me as his employee to run for him. He wasn’t even obligated to include me as an author but instead he wanted me to be more marketable and gain experience. And in grad school, when Edinburgh Zoo was behind schedule with their capuchin exhibit, he made room for me back in Atlanta in his Capuchin Lab like a kid moving back home after college. My entire life trajectory from the moment I stepped into the Capuchin Lab as a 20 year old undergrad was transformed. Frans was a constant source of support and encouragement. He was ever the “Sushimaster” to his apes. Always Good Natured. While watching the Harry Potter play in NYC recently, I thought of Frans and sobbed and smiled all at the same time when I heard Dumbledore say to Harry: “Those we love never truly leave us… There are things that death cannot touch. ” It resonated with me because there are so many things I learned from knowing Frans that forever changed who I am and how I approach life. I get to keep that no matter how heartbroken I feel.
For Catherine, everyone's favorite primate content media

Marietta Danforth

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