John Forbes Kerry born December 11, 1943 is an American politician who served as the 68th United States Secretary of State from 2013 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, Kerry previously represented Massachusetts in the United States Senate from 1985 to 2013. He was the Democratic nominee in the 2004 presidential election, losing to Republican incumbent George W. Bush.
Kerry was born in Aurora, Colorado and attended boarding school in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He graduated from Yale University in 1966 with a major in political science. Kerry enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1966, and between 1968 and 1969, he served an abbreviated four-month tour of duty in South Vietnam as officer-in-charge (OIC) of a Swift Boat. For that service, he was awarded combat medals that include the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal and three Purple Heart Medals. Securing an early return to the United States, Kerry joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War organization in which he served as a nationally recognized spokesman and as an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. He appeared in the Fulbright Hearings before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs where he deemed United States war policy in Vietnam to be the cause of war crimes.
After receiving a Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School, Kerry worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts. He served as Lieutenant Governor under Michael Dukakis from 1983 to 1985 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984 and was sworn in the following January. On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he led a series of hearings from 1987 to 1989 which were a precursor to the Iran–Contra affair. Kerry was reelected to additional terms in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. On October 11, 2002, Kerry voted to authorize the President “to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein,” but warned that the administration should exhaust its diplomatic avenues before launching war.
In his 2004 presidential campaign, Kerry criticized George W. Bush for the Iraq War. He and his running mate, U.S. Senator from North Carolina John Edwards, lost the election, finishing 35 electoral votes behind Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Kerry returned to the Senate, becoming Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship in 2007 and then of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2009. In January 2013, Kerry was nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then confirmed by the U.S. Senate, assuming the office on February 1, 2013. Kerry retained the position until the end of Obama’s tenure on January 20, 2017.
John Forbes Kerry was born on December 11, 1943 at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado. He is the second of four children born to Richard John Kerry, a Foreign Service officer and lawyer, and Rosemary Isabel Forbes, a nurse and social activist. His father was raised Catholic (John’s paternal grandparents were Austro-Hungarian Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism) and his mother was Episcopalian. He was raised with an elder sister named Margaret, a younger sister named Diana, and a younger brother named Cameron. The children were raised in their father’s Catholic faith, and John served as an altar boy.
Kerry grew up a military brat until his father was discharged from the Army Air Corps, causing the family to settle in Washington, D.C. in 1949. While in Washington, Richard took a spot in the Department of the Navy’s Office of General Counsel and soon became a diplomat in the State Department’s Bureau of United Nations Affairs.
His maternal extended family enjoyed great wealth as members of the Forbes and Dudley–Winthrop families. Kerry’s parents themselves were upper-middle class, and a wealthy great-aunt paid for him to attend elite boarding schools.
In 1957, his father was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, and Kerry was sent back to the United States to attend boarding school. He first attended the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts, and later St. Paul’s, Concord, New Hampshire, where he learned skills in public speaking and began developing an interest in politics. Kerry founded the John Winant Society at St. Paul’s to debate the issues of the day; the Society still exists there.
A Washington Post report in May 2011 stated that Kerry “has emerged in the past few years as an important envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan during times of crisis,” as he undertook another trip to the two countries. The killing of Osama bin Laden “has generated perhaps the most important crossroads yet,” the report continued, as the senator spoke at a press conference and prepared to fly from Kabul to Pakistan. Among matters discussed during the May visit to Pakistan, under the general rubric of “recalibrating” the bilateral relationship, Kerry sought and retrieved from the Pakistanis the tail-section of the U.S. helicopter which had had to be abandoned at Abbottabad during the bin Laden strike. In 2013, Kerry met with Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to discuss the peace process with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries, John Kerry defeated several Democratic rivals, including Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina.), former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and retired Army General Wesley Clark. His victory in the Iowa caucuses is widely believed to be the tipping point where Kerry revived his sagging campaign in New Hampshire and the February 3, 2004, primary states like Arizona, South Carolina and New Mexico. Kerry then went on to win landslide victories in Nevada and Wisconsin. Kerry thus won the Democratic nomination to run for President of the United States against incumbent George W. Bush. On July 6, 2004, he announced his selection of John Edwards as his running mate. Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who was Kerry’s 2004 campaign adviser, wrote an article in Time magazine claiming that after the election, Kerry had said that he wished he had never picked Edwards, and that the two have since stopped speaking to each other. In a subsequent appearance on ABC’s This Week, Kerry refused to respond to Shrum’s allegation, calling it a “ridiculous waste of time.”
During his bid to be elected president in 2004, Kerry frequently criticized President George W. Bush for starting the Iraq War. While Kerry had initially voted in support of authorizing President Bush to use force in dealing with Saddam Hussein, he voted against an $87 billion supplemental appropriations bill to pay for the subsequent war. His statement on March 16, 2004, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” helped the Bush campaign to paint him as a flip-flopper and has been cited as contributing to Kerry’s defeat.
On November 3, 2004, Kerry conceded the race. Kerry won 59.03 million votes, or 48.3 percent of the popular vote; Bush won 62.04 million votes, or 50.7 percent of the popular vote. Kerry carried states with a total of 252 electoral votes. One Kerry elector voted for Kerry’s running mate, Edwards, so in the final tally Kerry had 251 electoral votes to Bush’s 286.
On December 15, 2012, several news outlets reported that President Barack Obama would nominate Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, after Susan Rice, widely seen as Obama’s preferred choice, withdrew her name from consideration citing a politicized confirmation process following criticism of her response to the 2012 Benghazi attack. On December 21, Obama proposed the nomination which received positive commentary. His confirmation hearing took place on January 24, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the same panel where he first testified in 1971. The committee unanimously voted to approve him on January 29, 2013, and the same day the full Senate confirmed him on a vote of 94–3. In a letter to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Kerry announced his resignation from the Senate effective February 1.
Kerry retired from his diplomatic work following the end of the Obama administration on January 20, 2017. He did not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration on that day, and the following day took part in the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. Kerry has taken a strong stand against Trump policies and joined in filing a brief arguing against the new president’s executive order banning entry of persons from seven Muslim countries.
Following retirement from government service, Kerry signed an agreement with Simon & Schuster for publishing his planned memoirs, dealing with his life and career in government. The book is scheduled for release in Sept. 2018.
In April 2017, Kerry purchased a 18-acre property on the northwest corner of Martha’s Vineyard overlooking Vineyard Sound in the town of Chilmark, Massachusetts. The property is located in Seven Gates Farm and according to property records, cost $11.75 million for the seven bedroom home.
Kerry’s paternal grandparents, shoe businessman Frederick A. “Fred” Kerry and musician Ida Lowe, were immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The couple changed their names from “Fritz and Ida Kohn” to “Frederick and Ida Kerry” in 1900, and converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 1901 or 1902. Fred and Ida Kerry emigrated to the United States in 1905, living at first in Chicago and eventually moving to Brookline, Massachusetts by 1915. According to The New York Times, “[the] brother and sister of John Kerry’s paternal grandmother, Otto and Jenni Lowe, died in concentration camps.” Kerry’s Jewish ancestry was revealed during his 2004 presidential campaign; he has stated that he was unaware of it until informed by a reporter in 2003.
Kerry’s maternal ancestors were of Scottish and English descent, and his maternal grandparents were James Grant Forbes II of the Forbes family and Margaret Tyndal Winthrop of the Dudley–Winthrop family. Margaret’s paternal grandfather Robert Charles Winthrop served as the 22nd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Robert’s father was Governor Thomas Lindall Winthrop. Thomas’ father John Still Winthrop was a great-great-grandson of Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop and great-grandson of Governor Thomas Dudley. Through his mother, John is a first cousin once removed of French politician Brice Lalonde.
Kerry was married to Julia Stimson Thorne in 1970, and they had two daughters together:
Alexandra Forbes Kerry (born September 5, 1973), documentary filmmaker
Vanessa Bradford Kerry (born December 31, 1976), physician
Alexandra was born days before Kerry began law school. In 1982, Julia asked Kerry for a separation while she was suffering from severe depression. They were divorced on July 25, 1988, and the marriage was formally annulled in 1997. “After 14 years as a political wife, I associated politics only with anger, fear and loneliness” she wrote in A Change of Heart, her book about depression. Thorne later married Richard Charlesworth, an architect, and moved to Bozeman, Montana, where she became active in local environmental groups such as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Thorne supported Kerry’s 2004 presidential run. She died of cancer on April 27, 2006.
Kerry and his second wife–Mozambican-born businesswoman and philanthropist Teresa Heinz, the widow of Kerry’s late Pennsylvania Republican Senate colleague John Heinz–were introduced to each other by Heinz at an Earth Day rally in 1990. Early the following year, Senator Heinz was killed in a plane crash near Lower Merion. Teresa has three sons from her previous marriage to Heinz, Henry John IV, André, and Christopher. Heinz and Kerry were married on May 26, 1995, in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
The Forbes 400 survey estimated in 2004 that Teresa Heinz Kerry had a net worth of $750 million. However, estimates have frequently varied, ranging from around $165 million to as high as $3.2 billion, according to a study in the Los Angeles Times. Regardless of which figure is correct, Kerry was the wealthiest U.S. Senator while serving in the Senate. Independent of Heinz, Kerry is wealthy in his own right, and is the beneficiary of at least four trusts inherited from Forbes family relatives, including his mother, Rosemary Forbes Kerry, who died in 2002. Forbes magazine (named for the Forbes family of publishers, unrelated to Kerry) estimated that if elected, and if Heinz family assets were included, Kerry would have been the third-richest U.S. President in history, when adjusted for inflation. This assessment was based on Heinz and Kerry’s combined assets, but the couple signed a prenuptial agreement that keeps their assets separate. Kerry’s financial disclosure form for 2011 put his personal assets in the range of $230,000,000 to $320,000,000, including the assets of his spouse and any dependent children. This included slightly more than three million dollars worth of H. J. Heinz Company assets, which increased in value by over six hundred thousand dollars in 2013 when Berkshire Hathaway announced their intention to purchase the company.