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Heinz Kerry says she became wealthy on 'a very sad day'

DES MOINES -- Teresa Heinz Kerry, who inherited a vast family fortune and heads a billion-dollar foundation, said yesterday she would give up the money to have her first husband back.

''It was a very sad day when that happened," Heinz Kerry said, speaking of Senator John Heinz, heir to the Heinz food fortune, who was killed in a 1991 plane crash. ''I'd rather have my husband alive than that money."

Heinz Kerry, a philanthropist now married to Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, said she wants people to judge her by her life's work and not the size of her bank account. She and Kerry married in 1995.

Her comments came during her first visit to the state since a win in Iowa's caucuses ignited her husband's presidential campaign last January. She spoke in the crowded, sweltering basement of a Des Moines health care clinic where she pitched his health care proposals and fielded questions about her wealth.

Addressing the suggestion that her fortune, estimated at as much as $1 billion, makes her out of touch with the voters who will decide whether to elect her husband, she said: ''It's so ludicrous that it makes you laugh."

''You measure people by what they do with their lives," said Heinz Kerry, who also heads the $1.2 billion Heinz Foundation endowment, which donates money to various charitable causes.

Heinz Kerry heard from medical patients who could not afford health insurance and called for reforms to focus on preventive health care and provide incentives to companies that offer health insurance to employees.

Kerry, meanwhile, campaigning in Phoenix last night, was asked by a reporter if he would release records from his divorce with his first wife, Julia Thorne. ''I have no intention of doing that at all -- there's no reason whatsoever," Kerry said. ''It's history, ancient history. My ex-wife and I are terrific friends."

Patrick Healy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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