Kerry's Brady Bunch
Sunday, March 14, 2004
An aspiring filmmaker, a medical student, a blacksmith and a teacher, an environmentalist and a son who easily takes to the campaign trail. They are the children in the wealthy clan that will be America's First Family if John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry move into the White House.
The children, ages 27 to 37, came together in 1995 when a divorced father of two daughters married a widowed heiress with three sons. The offspring of U.S. senators -- Kerry of Massachusetts and the late Pennsylvania Republican John Heinz III -- they have taken different paths in life, both toward and away from politics. Only the occasional holiday brings them under the same well-tended roof.
"I think we're a very normal family in that we have our ups and downs," said the youngest son, Chris, 30. "But everyone tries to go to bat for the other person." As Kerry clawed his way to the Democratic nomination, some of the brood helped court voters. They say the experience, hardly over, has given them a better understanding of each other as well as political life.
"The campaign has definitely brought us closer together," said daughter Alex Kerry, 30. "Not many people can relate to this process." And, she added, in case anyone asks: "Yes, we have been referred to as the Brady Bunch, minus Cindy or Jan."
The youngest -- a tall blonde teased by a stepbrother as being the Cindy-Jan combo -- is 27-year-old Vanessa Kerry, a Yale graduate like her father. During a hiatus from her third year at Harvard Medical School, she filled a role similar to that of Karenna Gore Schiff, whose campaign appearances in 2000 often showed the lighter side of her stoic father, Al Gore.
Adeptly stumping from California to Iowa to New York, Vanessa Kerry offered anecdotes that contrasted the senator's aloof image. For example, there's the family vacation tale of Kerry performing chest compressions to revive young Vanessa's beloved hamster after its cage fell into the water.
Her sister goes by Alex but is billed as Alexandra Kerry for her bartender role in "Spartan," a movie released Friday about the missing daughter of a senior government official. A film student in Los Angeles who occasionally pops up to campaign, Alex has gathered footage from the trail for a documentary.
After their parents' marriage fell apart in 1982, the girls lived primarily with their mother, Julia Thorne, who also hails from wealth. Thorne later wrote a book about depression, touching on her own battles with the disease. Remarried, she moved to Montana but stays in touch with her busy daughters.
Kerry initially met Teresa Heinz through her first husband, who died in a plane crash in 1991. The family tree now extends to the heirs to the Heinz food fortune, three brothers from a moderate Republican household who grew up in the Pittsburgh and Washington areas. Like their stepsisters, they attended Washington and New England prep schools.
The youngest, Chris, quit his job in a private equity firm to raise money and stump full time for his stepfather. A Yale graduate with a master's in business administration from Harvard, he attended the same prep school, St. Paul's in Concord, N.H., as Kerry. Sports lovers both, Chris is the closest of the Heinz children to him.
Calling himself "a big believer in John," Chris said they hold many of the same political positions. On gay marriage, which Kerry opposes, he diverges: "It's a generational issue, and I don't see a big deal with it."
With political proclivities like those of his father, and looks reminiscent of John F. Kennedy Jr., Chris has toyed with running for Congress someday from Pennsylvania. His leanings, he said, come down on the side of "moderate people first and Democrats second." He admires former President George H.W. Bush, whom he met a few times with his father and calls "an internationalist and a gentleman and a serious politician, in a good way."
Middle son Andre, 34, with a master's degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is an environmental consultant who focused on that topic for his few campaign appearances. He was also known to regale campaign staff and media with an impression of Bill Clinton.
Living mostly in Europe, Andre speaks French and Swedish and has an ear for languages like his mother, who was born in Mozambique and speaks five languages.
Least involved with Kerry's quest is John Heinz IV, 37, a blacksmith and teacher who lives with his wife and child in Pennsylvania, where he runs an alternative school for teenagers. Both John and Andre serve on the board of the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, which their mother chairs, to help guide its grant-making decisions.
"He's very, very good at bringing us down out of the clouds," endowment president Maxwell King said of John Heinz. "He really wants to know how the average person lives and works in Pittsburgh, not the elite of the community."
Not surprisingly, the union of these high-profile families was rocky at times, especially in the beginning. "I've heard horror stories about stepparents before, and I don't recall a lot of horror story-type material," Chris said.
"Friction? I guess," he said. "But much less often than good times."