Dian Fossey was born 1932 in San Francisco. Her parents divorced when she was six. Her mother, Kitty and her second husband, contractor Richard Price, raised her. Her stepfather was a taskmaster and her mother a worrywart, according to Fossey's account of her childhood. She left home for college and never returned except for brief visits. Fossey began studying veterinary science at the University of California, but she transferred to San Jose State College and switched majors to occupational therapy. She graduated in 1954 and moved 2,000 miles from her mother, taking a job working with autistic children at a Shriners' hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Through her work she became acquainted with doctors and their wives, and through those contacts she developed an active social life in Louisville, cavorting with men from the city's social register. Among her suitors were two brothers, Franz and Alexie Forrester, scions of a Rhodesian family with royal Austrian roots. In part through their influence, Fossey became smitten by Africa. By 1960 Fossey was obsessed with the idea of going on safari. One problem: She had no money, and the month-long trip would cost $5,000 — more than a full year's salary. Franz Forrester offered a solution. He proposed marriage, promising a safari honeymoon. But Fossey was not ready to settle down. Instead, she saved every penny for two years, and then took a loan against future income to raise the money for her safari. She departed Sept. 26, 1963. Fossey insisted that her guide take her to Olduvai Gorge in Serengeti National Park, the center of Louis Leakey's famous archaeological research. Leakey was among the world's most famous scientists in 1963, and Fossey was determined to meet him.
Leakey proved to be quite accommodating, as he generally was with attractive young women. They had a long visit, and Leakey encouraged Fossey to go north to observe the rare mountain gorillas that lived at the border lands of Rwanda, Uganda and Zaire. Leakey told Fossey to keep intouch and she had every intention to.
She and her guide made their way to the mountains, where Fossey met wildlife filmmakers Alan and Joan Root, who were filming gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. The Roots allowed Fossey to tag along. This was her first experience at high-altitude jungle hiking, and she had trouble keeping up as the couple and their African guides moved swiftly along through rugged terrain at more than 10,000 feet high. A native guide suddenly halted the group and used his machete to cut a window through the brush. Fossey crawled forward and gazed through the opening. There was a group of 6 adult gorillas lounging around. The next day, Fossey departed the mountains for an airplane trip south to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to visit the family farm of Franz and Alexie Forrester. But she left looking over her shoulder. She wrote, "I left... never doubting that somehow I would return to learn more about the Virunga gorillas."
With singular determination, Dian Fossey spent three years plotting her return to Africa. She maintained her job working with children at the Louisville hospital, primarily because she had mortgaged her future income to secure the loan for her trip abroad. But on weekends and evenings she focused on her avocation.
She tried without success to sell the film she had shot in Africa, and she submitted photographs of her trip to the National Geographic. Fossey also labored over several long magazine articles about her safari, which she sent to some of the nation's largest periodicals — Life, Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest. She was rejected at every turn.
Instead of giving up, Fossey enrolled in the Famous Writer's School, the kitschy correspondence course that was popular with aspiring wordsmiths in that era. The Louisville Courier-Journal finally agreed to publish several stories about her adventure. But her big break did not come from a magazine or a famous writer. It came from Louis...
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