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Maria Teresa Heinz

Maria Teresa Heinz (nee Therstein Simoes-Ferreira), Chair of the Heinz Endowments and the Heinz Family Philanthropies, both based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was born and raised in Mozambique. Between 1957 and 1959 she read for a Bachelor of Arts degree at Wits University, with a focus on romance languages and literature (French, Italian and Portuguese), graduating in 1960. She speaks five languages. After graduating from the Interpreters School at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, she initially worked for the United Nations in New York.

The Heinz Endowments are collectively one of the largest independent philanthropic organisations in America, investing millions of dollars each year in uplifting mainly south-western Pennsylvania. In 2004 alone grants totalled US$ 57-million. Heinz Family Philanthropies is responsible for the annual Heinz Awards, which supports active research and programmes in the areas of women’s health and economic security. One of these projects, The Heinz Plan to Overcome Prescription Drug Expenses (Hope), presents a model for making prescription drugs affordable by elderly Americans; a model that has been adopted by several states in America.

Teresa Heinz has campaigned across the United States and has testified before state legislatures on prescription drug issues. She is highly regarded as a creative, thoughtful philanthropist who has brought intellectual leadership to a wide range of public concerns aimed at economic justice and improving the quality of life of all members of society. The Wall Street Journal described the Hope project as her brainchild and the Boston Globe called it a great service to the state of Massachusetts.

After the tragic death of her husband, John Heinz in a plane crash in 1991, Teresa took over the direction of the family’s philanthropic activities. She immediately instigated a major re-organisation of the strategic focus of the foundations, which are now widely known for supporting innovative strategies that protect the environment, improve education, enhance the quality of life of children, broaden economic opportunity and promote the arts.

In 1995 the UTNE Reader, which publishes alternative points of view, named her as one of America s top 100 visionaries for her support for strengthening the scientific and economic foundation of environmental policy through collaboration between academic, governmental, industrial and environmental organisations. This support led to a US $20-million grant to create the Heinz Center in Washington, DC. In 2002 the Centre’s first collective report, by 150 individuals, was published after five years of research and was hailed by the distinguished journal Biodiversity as a succinct, comprehensive, unbiased, scientifically sound analysis of America s natural environment. The next edition of the report is due this year.

Her commitment to environmental causes is evident in the many projects she has championed or undertaken: as a delegate to the UN Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992; as the patron of a chair in environmental management at Harvard Business School and another in environmental policy at Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government; as the creator of the John Heinz Environmental Fellows Program for the United Negro College Fund; the promoter of citizen environmental action in countries around the globe; and as co-founder of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, to name only a few.

Teresa has also distinguished herself for more than 30 years as an advocate for women s issues. She attended the first meeting of the Pennsylvania Women s Political Caucus in 1972 and was co-founder of the Women’s Campaign Fund, a bipartisan effort to generate financial support for women who run for public office. She has funded publications, made public representations, hosted and sponsored annual conferences, engaged with the design of office equipment and work systems and been involved in many other activities aimed at improving the wellbeing and health of women.

She has long been an advocate for human rights and for economic, scientific and creative freedom, a passion influenced by her family s experience as disenfranchised Portuguese citizens living in Mozambique. Her participation during her time at Wits in protests against the apartheid regime led her to proclaim to an audience in Philadelphia: “That remembrance propels me to stand tall for those who cannot stand.” This inspiration drove her to campaign tirelessly for Soviet Jews who sought to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel in the 1970s and 1980s.

Heinz has received considerable recognition for the many roles she has played. She is a recipient of the Women s Leadership Award from Save the Children and the World Ecology Award from the University of Missouri, a lifetime achievement award from the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal for Humanitarianism from Johns Hopkins University.

She has also received honorary doctorates from several American universities, among them the University of Massachusetts, Drexel University and the Carnegie Mellon University.

She has three sons and is a proud grandmother. She married Senator John Kerry in 1995.

Teresa Heinz has distinguished herself through her vision, philanthropy, leadership, advocacy and deep commitment to alleviating deprivation. Through her focus and actions she has brought lustre to Wits, her Alma Mater, who considers it fitting to award to her its highest honour.