John F. Kerry photo

Remarks of Teresa Heinz Kerry at the Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, DC

October 17, 2004

Good afternoon and thank you. What a pleasure it is to be here with such a great group of women.

Eight years ago, I shared a platform with the author Jill Ker Conway, an Australian who was then president of Smith College and Susan Weld, whose husband, Governor Bill Weld, was then running against John Kerry for the Senate. The three of us were speaking at a benefit for the Pine Street Inn, a shelter that does excellent work with the homeless in Boston.

In preparing my remarks for that evening, I found a passage in Jill's book, The Road From Coorain, that reminded me of what Susan Weld and I were experiencing at the time. In it, Jill described herself and her mother as "a tiny island of women in a world that revolved around male activities." Today that passage reminds me of what Laura Bush and I are going through.

Of course, I don't mind. I believe deeply in John and what he's fighting for to bring hope and opportunity to all Americans. It is an honor to stand with him in this campaign, and I know Laura Bush feels the same way about her husband.

Nonetheless, it certainly is nice to be here with a group of women who want to talk about something other than politics for a moment. Standing before this impressive group, I recall the words of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: "If you want anything said, ask a man, and if you want anything done, ask a woman."

Now, I can hear the pundits already: "There she goes again, being outspoken. This time she's criticizing men." You may have noticed-I get that kind of thing a lot. And all I can say is, Lighten up, fellas. It's just a joke.

But I will admit, it's a joke with a point. I believe the world needs to hear more from women. The world needs more of the qualities that are so clearly embodied in all of you.

My husband and I were introduced by my late husband John Heinz on Earth Day 1990, and our relationship began taking root at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that we both draw inspiration from the natural world, and I want to preface my remarks with a metaphor that I drew from a visit to the Amazon jungle 14 years ago.

The most amazing experience for me was to stand beneath the jungle canopy towering 120 feet overhead. It truly had the feeling and simplicity of a gothic cathedral. The trees were like pillars, often anchored by buttress-like roots. They grew in a mere six inches of soil. You couldn't help but wonder what sustained them, and then you looked at the ground and saw the interplay of mosses, ferns, mushrooms, insects and animals, and you began to understand the beauty and complexity and interdependence of life.

We are, all of us, like those trees. Even they depend on the kindness of strangers, and so it is for us.

No matter how high we may sometimes soar, no matter how invincible we may sometimes feel, we are all fed and nurtured and sustained by complex webs of connection. We all truly are in this together.

That, of course, is the essential but too often forgotten wisdom that lies at the heart of all the world's great religions-that we should love others as we love ourselves. And it is the wisdom at the heart of all true charity and philanthropy.

My life has taught me three great lessons about giving of yourself, as a volunteer, an activist or a philanthropist, about tikkun olam, the notion that we must heal the world and make it a better place. I would like to share these lessons with you today, not as advice but as encouragement to a group of fellow travelers.

First is that this journey of ours-this journey of sharing and giving-is not merely noble or kind. It is also immensely practical. It reveals the secret to the survival of the human race and of a planet worth inhabiting.

My First exposure to that came from my father, when I was a girl growing up in Mozambique. He was a doctor who sometimes allowed me to accompany him on his rounds. I was always amazed by how much time he devoted to each of his patients-how he would hug them, ask them about their lives, and listen carefully to every story, every detail they shared.

I thought he was just being kind, but slowly I learned there was a method to his kindness. The time he devoted to his patients also made him a better doctor. It gave him clues that he used in his treatments. And it was a practical investment that produced tangible results.

I have seen that pattern play out time and again in the work we do at our foundations. Several years ago, The Heinz Endowments funded a program to give young children access to high quality early education. There are sound scientific reasons to invest in programs like this, because of what we now know about how the brain develops in the preschool years. But these programs are costly, and we wanted to know whether the benefits justify the cost.

Here is what we learned. The number of children in our program needing special education, which costs significantly more than preschool programs, dropped from 1 in 5 to 1 in 100. The number of kindergartners and first-graders not being promoted dropped from 1 in 4 to 1 in 50.

It is difficult to imagine a better return on investment than that, especially when you think about how those numbers translate into children succeeding in school and not ending up in trouble. Good, thoughtful philanthropy often produces returns like that. In my personal foundation we are designing programs that are helping keep prescription drug costs affordable for seniors and helping educate women about how cleaning up the environment also protects our health and the well-being of our children.

Those are real results that benefit us all. When we truly understand that we are all part of an interconnected web, we realize that in helping others, we are also helping ourselves.

The second great lesson life has taught me about giving of ourselves is that this journey requires courage. As a young woman, I attended the University of Witswatersrand in South Africa at a time when the government was preparing to extend apartheid's ugly reach into higher education. My fellow students and I risked arrest to march through the streets in protest.

What I learned from that experience was not that we shouldn't have bothered. Rather, I learned that sometimes it is important to speak out even when we think no one is listening, and perhaps especially then. We cannot always know how our words or deeds will resonate across time and along the strands of human connection. All we can know is that absent affirmative acts of individual conscience, evil triumphs.

To me, those protests were their own small act of philanthropy. So often considered a genteel act, true philanthropy frequently takes us in directions that require strength and sacrifice and risk.

Never was that so evident to me as when, years later, I as a young Senate wife in 1977 helped launch and then co-chaired Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry. The women and men I met when we traveled to stand with them in the Soviet Union-giants like Ida Nudel, Judith Rattner and Vladimir Slepak-were giving something of themselves to others. The world knew them as refuseniks. They viewed themselves as standing up for freedom of religion, for the dignity of their families and their people, for the hope of a place where they could live in freedom.

It did not take great courage for us as Congressional wives to challenge the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union. But it did take a willingness to honor and support the bravery of those men and women who were risking their lives to speak out. It did require us to care enough about their plight to want to do something about it, to stand for those who could not stand entirely on their own, to speak for the voiceless and to shine light on the courage of the defiant.

That concept lies at the very core of good philanthropy. Even in ways that, compared to the sacrifices of the refuseniks, might seem utterly mundane, philanthropy is all about embracing risk. From poverty to oppression, from religious intolerance to ethnic hatred, from injustice to environmental destruction-there are no easy or obvious solutions to the great challenges of our time.

There is only the hope of human ingenuity. It is the task of philanthropy to cultivate that ingenuity, to support new ideas, new solutions, and new ways of applying old wisdom. In the new there is always risk, because that which has been untried might fail. But we cannot shy from that. At our foundations, we expect a certain amount of failure. We don't like it, but we believe our job is to support the experimenters, the innovators and the trail-blazers, because in them lies all hope for progress. To share the failures and the successes, because in the lessons we learn, we find the way forward.

The early childhood program I mentioned earlier never did reach the number of children we had hoped it would and had to be scaled back. You could view that as a failure. We chose instead to capture the learning from that effort and share it widely, and last year that information helped convince Pennsylvania finally to join the overwhelming majority of states funding early childhood programs. In philanthropy as in life, those who dare not fail can never succeed. The third great lesson I have learned about giving of ourselves is that, although it requires strength, it provides strength in even greater measure. There is a great misconception about philanthropy that it depends on the size of one's pocketbook. But what it really depends on is the size of one's heart, the openness of one's mind, a sense of conviction and an ability to leverage.

From my father embracing his patients and hearing their stories, to my fellow students marching in support of justice, to women and men like the Soviet refuseniks fighting for freedom, I have learned that the greatest gift we can give each other is the gift of our time and our ideas and our work. It is the gift of whatever we have to give, the gift of whatever we have inside of us.

I have seen that type of philanthropy practiced so many times since coming to America four decades ago. Here I discovered a land remarkably different from any I had known before. People here spoke their mind, and didn't object if you did the same-well, at times, some do if your husband is running for President.

And people here believe anything is possible, that anyone can set his or her sights on a dream and, with enough hard work, make it happen. So much has been made of that promise of individual opportunity that we often forget it has a flipside. For me, however, that flipside is the most remarkable aspect of America.

It is an ethic of individual obligation, a profound sense that with freedom comes responsibility. I see that ethic reflected in my husband, and both he and I believe it is the glue that holds this nation together and makes it great.

One of my earliest friends in this country was Fred Rogers, who created Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. After 9/11, Fred was asked what parents should tell their children to alleviate their anxiety over all the horrifying images appearing on television. He recounted something his own mother had told him when he saw grisly photographs in the newspaper. "Look for the helpers," she would say. "You will always find people who are helping."

America is a nation of helpers. I have never met a people more willing as individuals to help out in ways small and great, to assist a neighbor in need, to extend the hand of friendship to a young woman newly arrived from Africa, or-as we saw on 9/11-to rush into a burning building to save the lives of complete strangers. That generous, philanthropic spirit, more than anything else, gives America its strength and sets it apart among the community of nations.

There is a wonderful saying from the Talmud that I think perfectly captures the tension of our own times: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

What philanthropy teaches is that a spirit of generosity and connection and mutual respect does not require us to sacrifice ourselves. Rather, it reminds us that, in being for others, we are also for ourselves. In strengthening and respecting others, we strengthen and respect ourselves.

I think women, in particular, understand that. I am happy to say I am married to a man who also gets it, but I do think for women it comes naturally. In our roles as mothers and wives, women have for millennia managed the chaos of family and community. We have an intuitive sense for the importance of those connections.

That ancient wisdom is reflected in the symbol you have chosen for your work, the Lion of Judah. Like the trees I encountered in the Amazon, the lion is a symbol of strength and power. But even the lion's strength is measured by the health of the pride, and the prosperity of the land.

And that is why John and I both applaud the work of the National Women's Philanthropy and United Jewish Communities. In you, we see more than a great organization. We see hope-hope for our country, for the promised land of Israel, for the worldwide Jewish community, for women, and indeed for people all around this troubled globe of ours. You illustrate what can happen when strong women embrace their power and their wisdom, and come together to make their voices heard.

At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever in its history, and challenged by global collisions of economies, beliefs and cultures, it needs the wisdom that women like you offer. Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it's the only thing that ever has." To that I would add, and never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed women can lead the way. And if not us, who? If not now, when?

Lions of Judah, I salute you and thank you for all you do.

John F. Kerry, Remarks of Teresa Heinz Kerry at the Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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