Teresa Heinz is a grandmother of 65 and though she often calls herself 'shy' she's definitely not a recluse. Even though a lot of women that inherited a fortune (in her case a personal worth of 500 million dollars) lead a rich man's life without lifting a finger, Heinz Kerry is one of the most important filantropes of the US. She's at the head of the Heinz Endowments and the Heinz Family Philantropies, charity organisations with a combined asset of about 1.2 billion dollar.
Heinz Kerry often calls herself 'a daughter of Afrika'. She was born as Marie Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira in Mapputo, the capital of Mozambique, at the time still a Portugese colony under dictatorship of Salazar. She talks with a bit of melancholy about the days that she as a little girl travelled with her father, a Portugese doctor, across the country. Some of her happiest memories come from those days 'in the brousse with a floor made of cement and a straw roof' she was allowed to be there when her father treated his patients, many of which queied up from early in the morning.
Her father wanted her to follow in his path. At times she admits that she regrets not having studied medicines, but in the circles she moved around in er where very few examples of women capable of combining a career with motherhood. And she knew then that she wanted a family.
She was still very young when she was sent to a strict boarding school of British catholic nuns in South Africa. After her university studies in South Africa - in this period she took part of the anti-apartheid movement-she left for Geneva. She followed an interpretar's course (one of her fellow students was Kofi Annan) and now fluently speaks five languages.
Her childhood was in many ways priviliged, but life didn't spare her. She was only a teenager when her mother started suffering from a rare form of cancer that slowly misformed her face. In the next fourty years her mother went through 26 chirguries till the illness finally reached her brains. When Heinz Kerry was living in Geneva, her younger sister, Gita, who also studied in Switserland, died in an accident on her way to Portugal. As the closest kin, Teresa was called in to identify her sister's corpse.
She was still in Geneva when she met her first husband, a Harvard student that was doing an internship at a Swiss bank. When they met one another, all she knew was that his father 'made soup'. A few weeks later she found out that he was the son of Henry J. Heinz, the founder of the international food imperium.
After the death of her sister she lived for a year with her parents, while the family dealt with their loss. After that, she left for the US to work there as an interpretor for the UN and to be closer to John Heinz. They married in 1966 and gave life to three sons. In 1971, the year that John Heinz was elected as senator, Teresa gained American citizenship.
In the next few decades the family shared it's time in between Washington, a farm at the edge of Pittsburgh and Vacation residences in Sun Valley and Nantucket. Shortly after her silver wedding anniversary, in 1991, Heinz Kerry lost the man that she still calls 'my great love'. When his plane got a problem with it's landing gear, a helicopter was sent in the air to check up on it. The two machines bumped into one another and crashed on a school yeard. Everyone on the plane and two children lost their lives. Heinz Kerry, honest as always, makes no secret of it that she spent the next year on Prozac.
Since her husband was an only child, she inherited at her 52nd birthday not just an enormous personal fortune, but she also gained leadership of one of the biggest charity trusts in the world. She refused an invitation to come up for her husbands senat seat and started reorganizing the foundations and start up several others for those issues that were close to her heart. Education for young children, payable healthcare, pensions for women and the environment. She still occupies a great deal of her time with granting about 70 million dollars in scholarships, prices and grants in domains like the sciences, art and education.
"I earn no money in the office," she says, "I give it away".
When asked to step into politics, Heinz Kerry called campaigns 'the grave of real ideas and the cradle of empty promises'. She has also stated that she'd rather go in a convent than become first lady. Then again, at the time she did not yet know John Kerry.