Childhood & Early Life
John Forbes Kerry was born in Aurora, Colorado, on December 11, 1943 to Richard John Kerry, a Foreign Service officer and lawyer, and Rosemary Isabel Forbes, a nurse and social activist. He has three siblings—elder sister Margaret, younger sister Diana, and younger brother Cameron.
When his father was discharged from the Army Air Corps, his family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1949, and Richard became a diplomat in the State Department's Bureau of United Nations Affairs.
During his school days, Kerry was very religious and was an altar boy at one point of time. He prayed all the time and thought that he would become a priest.
He attended the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts, and later went to St. Paul's boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire as his father was posted at the US Embassy in Oslo, Norway at that time. At St. Paul's he started developing an interest in politics. He founded the John Winant Society at St. Paul's, which still exists today.
In 1962, he joined the Yale University and graduated in 1966 with a bachelor's degree in political science. At Yale, he played on the varsity Yale Bulldogs Men's soccer team. He also played hockey and took flying classes.
He was the Chairman of the Liberal Party of the Yale Political Union in his sophomore year, and a year later, became the President of the Union. He won many debates against the students of other colleges from across the nation. He received the Ten Eyck prize as the best orator for a speech about the US foreign policy.
After his graduation, he joined the US Navy and fought in the Vietnam War as a gunboat officer.
Continue Reading Below
John Forbes Kerry, a Democrat, made his first attempt to enter politics in 1972, but failed to acquire a seat in the Congress. He was upset with his setback and had to figure out how to make a living outside politics.
He joined the Boston College Law School in 1973, and simultaneously worked as a radio host on WBZ. In 1974, he became the executive director of Mass Action, an advocacy association in Massachusetts.
He received his Juris Doctor from Boston College in 1976, and entered the Massachusetts bar in the same year. Immediately, he became a full-time prosecutor in the office of the District Attorney of Middlesex County, John J. Droney. A year later, he was promoted to First Assistant District Attorney.
He quit his job in 1979 and departed with his assistant DA Roanne Sragow to set up their own law firm. Simultaneously, he worked as a commentator for WCVB-TV and co-founded the Kilvert & Forbes bakery with businessman K. Dun Gifford.
In 1982, when incumbent Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts Thomas P. O'Neill III refused to run for a third term, Kerry declared his candidacy, and won the nomination with 325,890 votes. He served as the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts under Michael Dukakis.
In 1984, he won one of Massachusetts' Senate seats. He was re-elected in the next four terms—1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. As a senator, he supported increasing investment in education, protection of the environment, hi-tech economy, free trade, and expansive US foreign and military policy. He sponsored or co-sponsored hundreds of bills on small business concerns, education, terrorism, marine resource protection, etc.
As a senator, he played a significant role as an important envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011 after the killing of Osama bin Laden. He also retrieved from Pakistan a part of the US helicopter which was abandoned at Abbottabad during the Osama bin Laden strike. In 2013, he discussed with Pakistan the peace process with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
He headed several committees, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 1987 to 1989, and the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs from 1991 to 1993.
In 2004, he won the Democratic nomination for the president. He focused his campaign on criticizing the government of incumbent President George W. Bush. However, after a tough campaign, he lost the presidential election to Bush.
Continue Reading Below
Despite his failure in the presidential election, he had a strong presence in the US Senate. In 2009, he became the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in 2011, as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, he was asked to help find a solution to US fiscal problems.
President Barack Obama nominated Kerry as his Secretary of State in December 2012. He succeeded Hillary Clinton and was sworn in on February 1, 2013. As his first major task, he convinced the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to start the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
He became the first US Secretary of State to meet his Iranian counterpart since the 1979 Iranian Revolution when he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in September 2013. This in turn led to the JCPOA nuclear agreement.
During the conflict in Syria between the rebels and the Bashar al-Assad government in 2013, Kerry confirmed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on civilians.
When Obama announced a strike on Syria, Russia agreed to negotiate with Syria to destroy its chemical weapons. In September 2014, the UN Security Council passed a resolution ordering the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.
Kerry retired from his post following the completion of Obama’s tenure as the president on January 20, 2017.
John Kerry has always been concerned about the global environment. In April 2016, he signed the Paris Climate Accords at the United Nations. In November 2016, he visited the Antarctica and held meetings with researchers. This made him the first US Secretary of State to do so.
In September 2015, he initiated the policy called ‘Global Connect’ that promises to provide internet access to over 1.5 billion people across the world by 2020.
Continue Reading Below
Kerry’s meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was significant as it was for the first time in years that such high-ranking officials from the US and Iran were meeting to talk. This also helped the US and Iran to reach an agreement in which Iran pledged to curb its uranium program.
John Kerry earned several military honors, including the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, for being a valiant soldier in the Vietnam War.
He received several honorary degrees, including Doctor of Laws granted by the University of Massachusetts in 1988 and Doctor of Public Service granted by Northeastern University, Massachusetts, in 2000.
Germany had awarded him the Grand Cross 1st class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He also received the Grand Office of the Legion of Honor from France.
John Forbes Kerry dated Janet Auchincloss, the half-sister of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, when he was at Yale University.
In 1970, he married writer Julia Stimson Thorne and the couple had two daughters together—Alexandra Forbes Kerry, who was born on September 5, 1973, and Vanessa Bradford Kerry, who was born on December 31, 1976. While Alexandra is a documentary filmmaker, Vanessa is a physician and health care administrator.
Kerry and Julia divorced in 1988. Julia eventually re-married Richard Charlesworth, an architect, and settled in Montana. She died of cancer in 2006.
Kerry married Maria Teresa Thierstein Simões Ferreira, a Mozambican-born businesswoman, on May 26, 1995. Maria was the widow of Kerry’s late senate colleague Henry John Heinz III. She has three sons from her marriage to Heinz.
In 2003, Kerry was diagnosed with prostate cancer which was successfully treated and cured. In 2015, he broke his right leg in a biking accident in France and underwent a four-hour operation to set it right.
During his younger days, he had been an avid cyclist and had participated in many long-distance rides. He had also been a snowboarder, windsurfer, and sailor.
In April 2017, he bought an 18-acre property including a seven bedroom house at Martha's Vineyard in Chilmark, Massachusetts, at the cost of $11.75 million.
His first memoir is due to be released in 2018.