A world-renowned expert on the lemurs of Madagascar and much-loved Lewes resident, Lady Alison Jolly has died aged 76 in her Southover home.
Born in Ithaca, New York State, to a professor father and artist mother, Alison grew up reading Puck of Pook’s Hill and Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep.
She often said she never dreamt that the magical land of Sussex was real, but she fell in love with Richard Jolly, a Hove boy who was studying at Yale in 1960, and moved to Lewes when he took up a job at the Institute of Development Studies at Falmer in 1969.
Surrounded by the green hills of her imagination, Lewes remained her primary home until she died.
Many knew Alison as a tall and witty American with brightly coloured jackets, sneakers and a gentle lilt, but not all knew about her ground-breaking achievements in science and conservation.
She made her name as the first scientist to do an in-depth study of the behaviour of the ring-tailed lemur, beginning field work in 1962 and continuing her research in the dusty south of Madagascar for more than 40 years.
In Lemur Behavior (1966), she was the first to establish that female lemurs typically have priority over males. Two further books developed her ideas and established a career in which she worked in some of the world’s leading universities including Cambridge and Princeton, became president of the International Primatological Society 1992-96 – and in June 2006 had a new species of mouse lemur, the tiny Microcebus jollyae, named in her honour. At the time of her death she was a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sussex.
She contributed to local life as a lover of Glyndebourne Opera and the Grange Gardens and as a member of Lewes History Group. Indeed she turned her passions into a series of children’s books featuring Fiddle, a time-travelling Lewes youngster modelled on a much-loved granddaughter. Her final public talk last December was to the Lewes History Group, on the educational power of children’s books.
Alison was a dedicated member of the Lewes Railway Land Advisory Board. To this jewel of local conservation, she brought her unique experience as a pioneer of ecological conservation in Madagascar.
She is survived by her husband, economist Sir Richard Jolly, four children, Margaretta, Susan, Arthur and Richard, and four grandchildren.