Teresa Heinz, John Kerry’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

teresa Heinz and john kerry

Getty U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) listens to his wife Teresa Heinz (L) during his ceremonial swearing in at the State Department February 6, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Teresa Heinz is the wife of former Secretary of State and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry. Kerry was considered a potential Democratic candidate for president before the 2020 race, but he did not run and instead endorsed President-elect Joe Biden.

Kerry plans to return to government service once Biden is sworn into office. The Biden Transition Team has announced Kerry will serve as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Here’s what you need to know about Kerry’s wife:


1. Heinz Was Born in a Portuguese Colony & Moved to the United States for a Job as a Translator at the United Nations

teresa heinz and John Kerry

GettyUS Secretary of State John Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz arrive for the 102nd White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, DC, on April 30, 2016.

Heinz was born on October 5, 1938, and her full name was Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira, according to IMDB. She grew up in Mozambique, which was a Portuguese colony at the time. (Mozambique gained independence in 1975). As the Baltimore Sun reported in 2004, the people there referred to Heinz as “Mozambique’s daughter” while Kerry was running for president.

Heinz’s father was Dr. Jose Simões Ferreira, Jr, was a tropical disease specialist. According to the Tampa Bay Times, he operated a clinic in Mozambique’s capital city. The newspaper described Heinz’s mother, Irene Thierstein, as the “youngest daughter of one of the colony’s wealthiest British families.”

Heinz left Mozambique to attend college at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. According to a profile on the school’s website, Heinz studied romance languages and literature and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1960. From there, she moved to Switzerland where she studied at the Interpreters School at the University of Geneva, the Hartford Courant reported. After graduating in 1963, her next move was to the United States.

Heinz got a job as a translator at the United Nations, which is based in New York City. She worked for the Trusteeship Council. According to a 2004 article in the New Yorker, her role included analyzing colonial financial information and “tracking the progress of decolonization.”

Heinz is fluent in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese, according to the Irish Times. She became a naturalized American citizen in 1971, CNN reported.


2. Heinz Met Her First Husband, John Heinz, While a Student at the University of Geneva

John heinz

JohnHeinzLegacy.orgSenator John Heinz

John Heinz graduated from Yale in 1960, before going on to earn his master’s in business administration from Harvard. One summer, while on break from graduate school, he visited Geneva. It was there that he met Teresa, who was also a student. They got married in 1966. The couple had three sons: Henry John IV, André and Christopher.

John Heinz was a businessman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the heir to a considerable fortune: the H.J. Heinz Company, an American food processing business. But John Heinz’s work with the family company was limited; he served in a marketing role in the late 1960s before turning to politics, according to his legacy website.

A Republican, John Heinz was elected to Congress in 1971. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 until 1977 and became a Senator in 1977. He held that seat until his sudden death in 1991 at age 52. As the New York Times reported at the time, his chartered plane collided with a helicopter and crashed near an elementary school. John and Teresa Heinz had been married for 25 years at the time of his death.

Teresa Heinz continued to refer to John Heinz as her spouse even after marrying John Kerry in 1995. In a 2002 interview with Mark Leibovich of the Washington Post, Teresa Heinz admitted that she often referred to John Heinz as “my husband” even when Kerry was around. At the time of the interview, Teresa Heinz also still wore a blue sapphire engagement ring John Heinz gave her. The entrance to their Georgetown home contained two framed photographs: one of her with John Heinz and the other alongside Kerry.


3. Heinz’s Wealth Came Under Attack When Kerry Ran for President in 2004

teresa heinz

Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), gestures as she speaks while her husband looks on December 28, 2003 in Manchester, New Hampshire

Teresa Heinz managed John Heinz’s estate after his death in 1991. She inherited about $700 million from him, the Toledo Blade reported.

Heinz and Kerry signed a prenuptial agreement and kept their financial assets separate after getting married in 1995. Her personal wealth came under attack during the 2004 presidential election. Heinz was hesitant to disclose her financial information or tax returns during the campaign, CNN reported, due to privacy concerns.

Critics argued that Kerry’s presidential run was bankrolled by the Heinz family fortune. But that was actually not the case, if only due to campaign finance law. Since Kerry and Heinz kept their assets separate in the marriage, he could not use her money on his campaign. Kerry instead mortgaged his Boston home and used $850,000 of his own money during the campaign, NBC News reported.

Heinz and Kerry met for the first time in 1990 at an Earth Day rally, the Washington Post reported. They did not see each other again until after John Heinz’s death. In 1992, Heinz and Kerry became reacquainted during the Earth Summit in Brazil. Heinz was a member of a State Department delegation at the time. (The Heinz Family Foundation lists environmental issues as a top priority and she was invited as a non-governmental representative). She and Kerry began dating in 1993 and tied the knot on May 26, 1995, in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

teresa heinz john kerry

Teresa Heinz Kerry (L) congratulates her husband Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) after his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next Secretary of State January 24, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Heinz chose to remain a Republican after getting married to Kerry, who is a Democrat. She didn’t switch parties until 2002. And in 2004, she garnered a lot of attention on the campaign trail for being unafraid to speak her mind. The New York Times quoted her in 2004 addressing that concern:

I have a certain kind of sense of humor, but it’s not necessarily other people’s sense of humor, so I have to get used to other people’s sense of humor as well. I had initial doubts about my ability to be a good partner in this campaign, whether or not I would hurt, whether or not I would help, whether youth and strength was better than age and wisdom. And I am completely convinced that age and wisdom wins every time.

In July 2004, Heinz told a reporter to “shove it” after she felt he misrepresented her words. According to the New Yorker, she referred to voters who were skeptical of her husband’s health care plan as “idiots” and dismissed her critics as “scumbags” during a TV interview. The magazine, citing a Kerry advisor, reported that Heinz referred to herself as African-American in front of Black audiences (as referenced above, she was born and raised in Mozambique to European parents).

Heinz also revealed on the campaign trail that Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, sometimes woke up screaming from nightmares, the Guardian reported. And she suggested at one point that Laura Bush had never “had a real job.” (She later apologized).


4. Heinz Managed Several Heinz Family Foundations & Received Multiple Awards for Humanitarian Efforts

teresa heinz john kerry

US Senator John Kerry, D-MA, and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry arrive 01 May, 2007 at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle Church in Washington, DC.

After John Heinz’s death in 1991, Teresa Heinz took on a more prominent role in the Heinz family business, specifically on the charity side. She said in an interview in 2004, “My husband was an only child; if I had not done this, there was no one else from the family to do it.”

Heinz managed the Heinz Family Foundation and still plays an influential role to this day. She is Chair Emeritus of the Heinz Endowments, after turning over control of the $1.6 billion organization to her sons in 2016. In the year before she stepped down, the foundation donated more than $70 million to various causes.

In 1993, Heinz also launched the Heinz Awards to honor her first husband. According to its website, the Heinz Awards is an “annual program recognizing outstanding vision and achievement in the arts; public policy; the environment; the human condition; and technology, the economy and employment.” In 2017, five winners each received $250,000 to put toward their respective causes.

Some of the most important causes championed by Heinz include environmental issues, child care, health care and women’s issues. Examples of some of her work include founding the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement in 1996; co-founding the alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in 1990; and establishing the Heinz Center, a non-profit organization focused on environmental policy.

Heinz’s awards include the Aldo Leopold Award and the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal for Humanitarianism.


5. Heinz Survived Breast Cancer & in 2013 Underwent Emergency Treatment for Seizures

teresa heinz john kerry

Sen. John Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz-Kerry arrive at the 27th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, December 5, 2004 in Washington, DC.

In September 2009, Heinz shared that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 71 at the time. She told ABC’s Robin Roberts that she calmly accepted the diagnosis. “It was all right, funny enough partially because I know my doctor very well … and I ask her a lot of questions. So in a sense, I was being a clinical person there looking at myself.”

Heinz used the attention to urge other women to get regular mammograms. Her cancer was luckily caught early, which greatly increased her odds of recovery. She had two operations and went into remission.

In July 2013, Heinz had another health scare. She was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital after getting sick during a family vacation to Nantucket, Massachusetts. Doctors confirmed she had suffered a seizure. She spent the next three weeks recuperating at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

A few months after the seizure, Heinz dismissed rumors that the illness had anything to do with her previous bout with breast cancer. She shared that she had suffered a concussion in 2009 and that it was not properly treated at the time. She told the interviewer that she was grateful to have a fully functioning brain, and joked that she was “mad about” not being able to drink alcohol anymore.

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