Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

A new generation of Leakey Foundation leaders

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Erica Brown Gaddis (L) and Elise Brown Ersoy (R) in 1988 in Turkana,Kenya. They are pointing to a fossil fish nest that was named after their father (Piscichnus brownii) by Dr. Craig Feibel in 1987.

By Sharal Camisa Smith, Executive Director

At The Leakey Foundation, legacy is important. The science we fund can take generations of researchers to carry out. Our namesakes, Louis and Mary Leakey, famously involved their family in their work. Their granddaughter Louise Leakey continues in their footsteps. 

Many of our grantees receive their first professional funding from the Foundation, and then decades later, their graduate students apply for their first grant.

Our three newest board members represent the second generation of family involvement with The Leakey Foundation. They are the daughters of two beloved members of Foundation leadership who helped shape the organization in profound ways. Life Trustee Mr. Bill Richards joined the Board in 1984 and skilfully managed the Foundation’s investments for decades. Much of our financial success and stability stems from his professional expertise. His daughter Mrs. Dana Lajoie joined the board in May 2021.

“When a single human faces a crisis, we look at history, genetics, and the environment to help that individual persevere in the most positive way possible. I believe that that same methodology should be applied to our species, and the species’ of our close relatives, to push us all forward into the most productive future.”

– Dana Lajoie

Dana Lajoie has been fascinated with human history and origins from a very young age. In a school report at six years old, she stated her career aspirations as “mother, teacher, and anthropologist.” One should expect no less from Bill Richards’ daughter. She grew up steeped in tales of science and prehistory, and she visited Africa for the first time at age 12. She spent time at Koobi Fora and toured the fossil vault at the National Museums of Kenya with Richard Leakey. These were formative experiences in her life. 

Mrs. Lajoie earned her BFA in ceramics and art education from the University of Colorado. After starting and running a successful ceramics business, she returned to school for a masters degree in marketing. She had a career in internet strategy and oversaw online marketing programs for many companies. She is also proud to have been a part of an early overhaul of The Leakey Foundation website.

Dr. Francis H. Brown

Dr. Frank Brown was a cherished member of our leadership beginning in the early 1990s until his passing a few years ago. He served as co-chair of the Scientific Executive Committee, and his kindness, scholarship, and generosity helped make The Leakey Foundation the organization it is today. 

“During his 50 years of research in Kenya and Ethiopia, my father found friendship and family in the African communities in which he worked,” said Francis Brown’s daughter, Erica Brown Gaddis. “He personally helped many secondary, university, and graduate students achieve their educational dreams. He helped many others by encouraging them to follow their hearts and by helping them financially. He had a genuine love and respect for the people of East Africa.” His dedication to increasing opportunities for African researchers led to the creation of the Francis H. Brown African Scholarship Fund.

Frank Brown’s daughters, Mrs. Elise Brown Ersoy and Dr. Erica Brown Gaddis joined the board in September 2021.

“The more we understand our past, the more we can understand ourselves. I am also interested in continuing my father’s legacy in the field of human origins, equity for Africans in science, and geology.”

– Elise Brown Ersoy

Mrs. Brown Ersoy earned a Master of Applied Science in natural resource management from James Cook University and a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies from the University of Utah. She serves on the California Energy Commission in the Energy Generation Research Office working on renewable integration issues at the distribution level.

Dr. Brown Gaddis is the director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality in Salt Lake City.  She received a Ph.D. in natural resources with an emphasis on water resources from the University of Vermont, Burlington, and a Master of Science in environmental science and policy at the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary where she was a Fulbright Scholar. 

“I am interested in understanding what makes us human and how environments have shaped our species. This provides great insight into how we can best adapt to a changing environment in the future.”

– Erica Brown Gaddis

These three women bring a unique perspective to the organization, having grown up with the Foundation as part of their family lives. We appreciate them bringing their expertise and fresh ideas to The Leakey Foundation, and we hope their involvement is as fulfilling for them as it has been for their fathers.

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