While her husband courts the nation for the presidency, Teresa
Heinz Kerry has her own ambitions to think of. A philanthropist,
environmental advocate and educationalist, her professional agenda
complements – but does not duplicate – the political program of her
spouse, U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is vying for his
party’s nomination in the 2004 presidential election.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily yesterday, Heinz Kerry –
who will address students in the Kuenzel Room of the Michigan Union
Sunday – said instead of campaigning alongside her husband, she
uses her frequent public addresses to allude to similarities
between her platform and his. Not surprisingly, her relationship to
Kerry – to whom she has been married since 1995 – began over their
mutual interest in environmental activism.
“Every time we met it was about the environment, so there’s
something important about that,” Heinz Kerry said, referring to her
first meeting with Kerry during a 1992 U.N. environmental
conference in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. “Whether it’s fixing
environmental problems or doing urban planning, John and I have the
same genesis about things.”
Brought up in politically-riven Mozambique by a father who
practiced medicine, Heinz Kerry said she learned at a very young
age the effects the environment had on public health. She added
that her acquired consciousness nurtured an interest in
environmental protection, a cause for which she has lobbied since
she came to the United States in the early 1960s.
“I grew up in Africa in a third world country – and in those
worlds if you don’t prevent, you die,” Heinz Kerry said, referring
to widespread disease in east Africa during the 1940s and ’50s. “My
dad, being a physician, took me around with him a lot. And even as
a child he didn’t have to tell me anything – I could just see. …
As a child where I grew up, it was by the ocean, and you could not
go in at sunrise or sundown” because of environmental hazards such
as snakes and malaria, she added.
Referring to her husband’s pledge for universal health care and
lower prices for prescription drugs, Heinz Kerry said she has also
sought to promote wellness among families and workers. Among her
initiatives, she hosts annual conferences on Women’s Health and the
Environment, helped found initiatives to monitor freshwater
pollution levels and encouraged the inspection of potentially
hazard chemicals in consumer products.
“Most people in the world can’t afford to get sick, and I don’t
mean just in terms of care, but because medications or time doesn’t
permit it,” Heinz Kerry said.
“There are 75,000 chemicals in our country, 4,000 of which have
been tested thoroughly. Of course we do very strict (tests) on
medications and pesticides, but not that much.”
Although her concern for public welfare dates back to her
childhood in east Africa, Heinz Kerry said her activism began
during her first marriage to late U.S. Sen. John Heinz (R-Penn.),
whose family directed the Heinz Family Philanthropies – a group of
prodigious charity foundations, which she now chairs.
Bestowed with a wealth of opportunity, Heinz Kerry has applied
her resources and ambition to everything from maintaining the Shady
Lane School – a leading child development institution in Maryland –
to helming the Green Building Alliance in her hometown of
Pittsburgh, Penn., one of the most eco-friendly cities in the
nation, she said. She has also helped forge Harvard’s “Green
Program” in environmental studies and has been named a fellow of
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
“When my husband died (in 1991), I had to assume the roles of
the leadership,” Heinz Kerry said. “Then, I really began to connect
a lot of the dots.”
Her aspirations, she said, encompassed a career in activism and
a role as mother to her three sons from her previous marriage – but
not a seat on Capitol Hill.
“I very much want to continue doing what I’m doing,” she said,
adding that a career in politics would have just cluttered her
“I don’t think anyone should be superhuman,” she said.
Reflecting on the foreign and environmental policy of the Bush
administration, Heinz Kerry said the president lacks the diplomatic
flair of the former President Bush and has been remiss of the
“Anyone who works in foreign policy knows it’s like a marriage,”
she said. “I know President Bush Sr. and he’s a good guy. … He
was a good diplomat because he really had a lot of dignity and
treated people with a lot of dignity. I don’t think we’ve seen a
lot of that recently (from the current President Bush).”
Citing America’s declining image abroad, Heinz Kerry said, “We
have to be part of the world’s population, and particularly because
we have so much and because we’re well off, we have to be sensitive
to people who don’t have so much, but not to be arrogant.”
If conferred with the honor of First Lady, Heinz Kerry said she
will not abandon her philanthropic endeavors.
Rather, she said will channel more of her energies toward
“I’d like to make sure every child in America has a … school
program,” she said.
Heinz Kerry added that she would like to have every second
grader to have a solid foundation in reading and mathematics.
“It can be done. We’re doing it in Pittsburgh.”