Heinz, Henry John, III

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Heinz, Henry John, III

(b. 23 October 1938 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; d. 4 April 1991 in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania), heir to the H. J. Heinz Company fortune and three-term Republican senator from Pennsylvania.

Heinz was the only child of H. J. Heinz II, who was known as “Jack” to distinguish him from the dynasty’s founder, H. J. Heinz, and Joan Diehl, a homemaker. Heinz grew up both in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, and in San Francisco, where his mother lived with her second husband, the U.S. Navy captain Monte McCauley, whom she married in 1942. Heinz graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1956 and, following in his father’s footsteps, attended Yale University. He graduated with a B.A. degree in history in 1960. With an eye toward his future in business, he earned an M.B.A from the Harvard

School of Business Administration in 1963. Enlisting in the air force, he served a tour of duty with the reserves and received an honorable discharge in 1969 with the rank of staff sergeant. Tall, good-looking, and athletic, he particularly enjoyed tennis and downhill skiing. He was also patrician or, as his Senate colleagues later described him, reserved. Nonetheless, he worked summers in tomato fields and canning factories and later took a position as a sales representative for International Harvester in Australia and then a position in banking in Geneva, Switzerland. In Geneva he met his future wife, Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira (who was raised in Mozambique and was fluent in five languages). When she moved to New York City as a consultant to the United Nations in 1966, she and Heinz wed. They had three sons. Returning to the family business in 1965, Heinz worked his way up from an entry-level desk job to associate manager in 1966, then to general manager of the grocery product marketing division in 1968.

At the same time Heinz became increasingly involved in local Republican politics. He served as an aide in the Republican senator Hugh Scott’s reelection campaign in 1964, attended the 1968 Republican National Convention as a Nelson A. Rockefeller delegate, and chaired Pennsylvania’s Republican Party Platform Committee in 1970. Although he tried his hand at teaching, lecturing at the Carnegie Mellon Graduate School of Industrial Administration in 1970–1971, Heinz was convinced that he could make his own mark and make a difference in politics.

When Congressman Robert J. Corbett of Pennsylvania’s Eighteenth Congressional District died in April 1971, Heinz seized the moment. He quickly moved his family to Fox Chapel and declared his interest in running for the vacant position. Although his Democratic opponent, the wealthy businessman John E. Connelly, was favored to win in a district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 16,000, Heinz won by a landslide, becoming the youngest and one of the wealthiest members of the Ninety-second Congress. He won reelection easily in 1972 and 1974. Heinz supported progressive social programs at home and urged withdrawal from Vietnam and normalization of relations with Cuba. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) consistently rated him in the sixtieth per-centile, and the conservative Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA) rated him below the tenth percentile.

In the tense post-Watergate climate Heinz declined to run against the popular Pennsylvania governor Milton J. Shapp in 1974, but he ran for the seat held by the retiring senator Hugh Scott in 1975. Heinz admitted that he had accepted illegal campaign contributions from the Gulf Oil Corporation in 1971 and 1972, and his popularity plummeted for the first time. Despite pouring millions of dollars of his own money into his campaign, mostly for television commercials, he barely won the Senate seat. Nevertheless, he was reelected in 1982 and 1988 with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Heinz retained the family home in Fox Chapel, but the family lived in the former Russian embassy in the Georgetown section of Washington. As a senator, Heinz was known as a liberal to moderate Republican who championed the cause of the elderly, the protection of the environment, and the rescue of the dying industries of Pennsylvania’s rust belt. As in his early years in the House of Representatives, he voted more often against than with his Republican colleagues.

Heinz was active in civic and philanthropic affairs in the Pittsburgh area. He was chairman of the H. J. Heinz Charitable and Family Trust, a fellow of the Carnegie Museum of Art, a member of the board of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and a cofounder of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. He also sat on the boards of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business Administration and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate Schools of Public Health and Public and International Affairs. Temple University awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree, the Jaycees gave him the Man of the Year Award, and B’nai B’rith presented him with the National Americanism Award.

In April 1991 Heinz was on his way to Philadelphia for hearings on Medicare fraud. The pilot of his corporate jet radioed for help when it appeared that the plane’s landing gear was stuck, and a Sun Oil helicopter that was in the area volunteered to fly close and check. Heinz was killed when the plane and the helicopter collided above a schoolyard in Lower Merion Township, near Philadelphia. Nine people died in the crash—five in Heinz’s plane, two in the helicopter, and two children in the schoolyard below. Other children were badly burned. Heinz was buried in the family mausoleum in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Teresa Heinz turned down the offer to fill her husband’s Senate seat but continued his philanthropy, founding the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation and supporting the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Museum. In 1995 she married Massachusetts Democratic senator John Kerry. Senator Heinz is memorialized in the John Heinz Neighborhood Development Program, supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the John Heinz National Environmental Center in Philadelphia.

The media often spoke of Heinz as a possible future Republican presidential candidate. Despite good looks and vast wealth, Senator Heinz probably undermined his chances by voting his conscience rather than following the party line. His political colleagues did not warm up to him, but he was an important figure in his home constituency, particularly in western Pennsylvania. His hopes for a bright future died in that fiery, tragic plane collision.

Heinz’s papers are archived at the Carnegie Mellon University libraries. This collection includes legislative papers, audiovisual materials, photographs, and memorabilia documenting his political career. Some Heinz papers and memorabilia are also housed in the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center library. Heinz’s obituary and the news release on the accident are in the New York Times (5 Apr. 1991). There is a video documenting the Heinz family history from QED Communications, WQED Pittsburgh, Heinz: The Story of an American Family (1992).

Pamela Armstrong Lakin

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