Ann James Premack

January 5, 1929 ~ January 20, 2022 (age 93)


Ann James Premack, science writer who explored great apes and their language capability, died on Jan. 20 in Santa Barbara, California. She was 93.

With her late husband David Premack, who was a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, Premack wrote several books and dozens of articles on psychology. To understand how intelligence develops, the Premacks taught non-verbal language to chimpanzees. One of the chimps who learned how to communicate was "Sarah" who was described by The New York Times as "the world's smartest chimp".

Premack was born in 1929 in Shanghai. Her father was a Minnesota native who moved to China after World War I. He operated restaurants for Shanghai expatriates. Save for her education at a nearby convent, Premack's earliest years were lavish and cosmopolitan.

Her fortunes changed at age 14, when Japanese troops interred her family in a prison camp for two years. In the Shanghai-area camp, she, her sisters, and parents lived in a horse stable. She once cooked rancid meat in a hospital bedpan.

She and her family survived the camps. After the war, Premack's mother, a British citizen, left the family. At age 16, she was sent to the United States with her younger, learning-disabled twin sisters. She would live in the United States for the first time.

Premack met her husband while in college at the University of Minnesota. She graduated in 1951 with a degree in occupational therapy. While David would later become something of a celebrity among his fellow psychologists, Ann kept the family fed in their early years with a then-coveted job as a telephone operator.

While raising her children and pushing forward her husband's research, Premack pursued a master's in linguistics at UCSB. During the Vietnam War, she was active in the anti-war movement. She coordinated the Santa Barbara petitions for the for 18-year-olds to vote state referendum.

After David retired, they moved to Annecy, France and then returned to California, buying a small avocado ranch in Somis.

Premack never lost her verve for life. In her late 80s, she could be seen driving around Camarillo in a bright red MINI Cooper, sporting a "Bebe" shirt decorated with Swarovski crystals.

Ann Premack is survived by her three children, Ben (Pacifica, CA), Lisa (Baltimore, MD), Timothy (Issaquah, WA) and her grandchildren Sean and Zane; Daniel; and Nora and Rachel. Ann's memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, February 12. 2022 at the Griffin Family Funeral Chapels in Camarillo.

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Funeral Service
February 12, 2022

1:00 PM
Griffin Family Funeral Chapels
1075 E. Daily Drive
Camarillo, CA 93010

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