A Passionate Advocate
Reading Shirley Hoggatt’s long list of Natural History Museum affiliations— docent, Fellow, Alliance member, Hildegarde Howard Society member—it is immediately apparent that the Museum plays a special role in her life.
As a little girl growing up in East Los Angeles, Shirley loved the sense of wonder that visits to the Natural History Museum inspired in her. She enjoyed—and still does—gazing at the intricate dioramas, the towering dinosaur fossils, and the historic artifacts, marveling that each object in the Museum has an important story to tell. Now, as an adult, it is her passion to ignite that spark in the next generation of Museum-goers. “The Museum is about inspiring imagination and wonder,” she says. “Giving kids the enthusiasm to learn about something new.”
Shirley’s background in science—she studied nursing at Stanford University and later earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Washington—and her deep interest in education drew her closer to the Museum over the years. When she and husband Gene began their own family in the 1970s, they were frequent Museum visitors with their son.
Then, in 1982, Shirley began training as a docent—a role she has cherished ever since. She takes an active approach to her work, often seeking out the “quiet, overlooked child” and encouraging his or her curiosity. “I was amazed at her knowledge and ability to relate details, making discoveries fun while keeping the students close,” recalls Docent Roundtable President Barbara Sanchez of the time she spent shadowing Shirley as a docent trainee. “I was very fortunate to have Shirley as a mentor for my training.”
Shirley embraces the many opportunities available through her activities at the Museum. She values the exchange of ideas she shares with fellow docents just as much as she enjoys working with the children. “It’s the only place you can discuss the latest scientific discoveries with others who are just as interested in learning,” she says. And as a member of the Alliance, Shirley appreciates having a forum to express the ideas and concerns that result from her considerable experience working on the floor. “What we say and do there really does make a difference,” says Shirley.
Ensuring that the Natural History Museum remains a center of research and learning is important to both Shirley and Gene, and when the couple drafted their wills several years ago, they included a generous provision for the Museum. As Shirley explains, “It is not as important to have our names somewhere as it is to enhance the Museum’s ability to conduct research and to continue to gather knowledge—that is how the Museum grows.”
How to sum up someone who has given so much to the Museum, in so many ways? Perhaps Barbara Sanchez puts it best: “Shirley is a passionate advocate whose concern is the overall education for all who enter the Museum’s doors.” For that we are truly grateful.
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