She was the speaker who was supposed to give the country a more personal view of John F. Kerry, her husband. But just as much, or more, Teresa Heinz Kerry on Tuesday night gave the country its fullest picture thus far of who she is and what she might be like as first lady, defining herself as an immigrant, a mother, an environmentalist and a citizen concerned for the welfare of the country and the world.
Heinz Kerry, in the last speech of a long night of speeches at the Democratic National Convention, began by alluding to her growing reputation for spontaneous candor seldom heard in American politics.
"My name is Teresa Heinz Kerry, and by now, I hope it will come as no surprise that I have something to say," she said to laughter and cheers. Everyone was well aware she was in the news in recent days for telling a journalist from a conservative newspaper that has been critical of her for years to "shove it."
But then Heinz Kerry greeted the audience in five languages, spoke out for the protection of the planet and made her case for why she thinks her husband would return the nation to one of moral leadership and endless potential that she had come here believing in, after a childhood under dictatorship in Mozambique and student days in South Africa protesting apartheid.
Speaking in a lilting European accent, Heinz Kerry, 65, recalled how her father, who practiced medicine for 43 years, was able to vote for the first time when he was 73 years old.
Such a life, she said, has given her a special perspective. "I have a very personal feeling about how special America is," she said, "and I know how precious freedom is." And, although she did not use the word, she defined herself as a feminist.
"My right to speak my mind, to have a voice to be what some have called 'opinionated,' is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish," she said, "and my only hope is that one day soon women who have all earned the right to their opinions, instead of being called opinionated will be called smart and well-informed -- just like men.
"I want to acknowledge and honor the women of this world, whose wise voices for much too long have been excluded and discounted," she said.
Her remarks were met by wild applause.
Tuesday night was her first opportunity to speak directly to the American public. Her introduction began with a biographical video that described her life in her own words and those of friends and family. It touched on her childhood as the daughter of a Portuguese oncologist based in East Africa; her first marriage, to Sen. H. John Heinz III (R-Pa.), of Heinz ketchup fame, who died in a plane crash in 1991; and her union with John Kerry, whom she got to know because of their mutual concerns on issues of the environment.
Her son, Chris Heinz, gave a warm and personal introduction to his mother, describing her as a force of nature and a woman of such political accomplishments that when his father died, the Republican Party tried to persuade her to run for his seat. He said that when he met Kerry, Heinz said to himself: "The only man good enough for your mother is the president of the United States."
Heinz Kerry reserved the bulk of her remarks to describe her husband's essential qualities as a conscientious leader and fighter, and how he would guide the country to where Americans who she and he have met want it: to a place of hopeful leadership.
"They want America to return to its moral bearings," she said. "It is not a moralistic America they seek, it is a moral nation that understands and willingly shoulders its obligations."
As president, Heinz Kerry said, her husband would safeguard the nation's security without sacrificing civil liberties; would encourage technologies that would help develop alternative fuels and end dependence on foreign oil; would fight for affordable health care for every family; would reverse the threats to the health of the planet, such as global warming; and would lead in the world "by showing the face, not of its fears, but of our hopes."
Her speech was not meant to be a barnburner, aides said. But it was full of warmth and personal asides. Her most pointed reference to the current administration came when she alluded to the war in Iraq, describing how development of alternative fuels "will guarantee that not only will no American boy or girl go to war because of our dependency on foreign oil, but also that our economy will forever become independent of this need."
She reminded the public, as most every speaker at the convention had, that her husband is a Vietnam veteran who "earned his medals the old-fashioned way, by putting his life on the line for his country."