Dr. Jane Goodall Opens Up About Her 2 Marriages: 'How I Could Do It Twice? I Don't Know'

In this week's issue, the beloved conservationist reflects on the 60th anniversary of her research, her celeb friends (Leo! Angelina!) her family and two husbands

Two marriages were enough for Dr. Jane Goodall, who never wed again after her second husband left her widowed in 1980.

“Well, I didn't want to,” the world’s most foremost expert on wild chimpanzees, 86, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. “I didn't meet the right person, I suppose, or potentially the right person.”

With such a full life, the beloved ethologist and conservationist says she didn’t really feel the need to marry again when her second husband, Tanzanian parks director Derek Bryceson, died when she was just 46.

Jane Goodall
Dr. Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall Institute/Derek Bryceson

“I had lots of men friends, many,” she says. “I had lots of women friends too. My life was complete. I didn't need a husband.”

Goodall wed Bryceson in 1975, a year after she divorced her first husband, Dutch photographer and filmmaker Baron Hugo van Lawick, the father of her son, Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick, now 53, after 10 years of marriage.

jane goodall and her family
Jane Goodall with first husband Baron Hugo van Lawick and son Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick. Walt Disney Television/Getty

Marking the 60th anniversary of the day she began her history-making research on wild chimps in Tanzania on July 14, 1960, Goodall recently took time out of her packed schedule to speak to PEOPLE from her childhood home on the English coast, where she’s been riding out the pandemic.

Instead of traveling 300 days a year, like she did pre-COVID-19, she's "busier" than ever, she says, keeping in touch with friends and family via Zoom and Skype, fundraising for her eponymous nonprofit, the Jane Goodall Institute, fighting to protect chimps and the planet, telling the world about programs including the Trillion Trees Challenge, and taking leisurely walks around her leafy neighborhood with her dog.

At day's end comes a long-enjoyed ritual: a small glass of whiskey, neat: "A little nip," she says. "It loosens the vocal cords."

“I'm perfectly content," Goodall says. "I'm here now with my sister, her daughter, her daughter's fiancé and two grandsons. I [have] many, many friends, wonderful friends. That's what I miss about being stuck here.”

Looking back at her storied life, she recalls how she met van Lawick in 1962 when he came to photograph her for National Geographic in what is now Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. His stunning photographs and films of her helped catapult her and her research onto the world stage.

At first, “Hugo and I seemed perfect,” says Goodall, who’d been studying chimpanzees in the wild since July 14, 1960. "We both love animals. We both loved being in the bush.”

RELATED VIDEO: Prince Harry Reenacts a 'Chimp Greeting' with Dr. Jane Goodall — See the Hilarious Moment!

They wed in London in 1964. Three years later, their son, nicknamed Grub, was born.

They worked together for years until National Geographic stopped funding him, she says. After that, “he had to go off and do his own thing,” she says. “He couldn't just stay.”

For a while, she says, “I went with him, but I needed to get back to Gombe. I built up the research station and I had to — that was my thing. So we sort of drifted apart. We began to bicker.”

They divorced in 1974 but stayed friends, which she says "was sad for our son, but he survived it okay. It was sad, but I think it was better.”

The following year she wed Bryceson, a cabinet member in Tanzania’s government, though they were only wed for five years when he died.

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“He got this horrible cancer,” she says. “That was the end.”

He helped her establish what is now Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.

“If I hadn't married him, there wouldn't be a Gombe today,” she says. "If Hugo hadn't come along, the chimp story [probably] would have ended. Unfortunately, they were both extremely jealous. Both of them. Even jealous of women friends. They were really jealous and possessive... How I could do it twice? I don't know.”

For more information on the Jane Goodall Institute, its programs including Roots & Shoots for young people, the Trillion Trees Initiative, and Tacare -- and how to donate - visit janegoodall.org/.

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