Yale President Peter Salovey, left, and F&ES Dean Peter Crane, far right, present The Aldo Leopold Prize to Teresa Heinz on Nov. 10.

Heinz Honored for Environmental Work: “I’ve Planted Seeds, and I Hope They Grow”

On Monday evening, as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies presented philanthropist Teresa Heinz with its highest honor, The Aldo Leopold Award, School leaders ticked off some of Heinz’s many commitments to the environmental field over the years: her work as Chair of the Heinz Endowments, which supports social and environmental causes; her founding of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning; the annual conferences she sponsors on women’s health and the environment; and her service as U.S. delegate during the Rio Earth Summit.

But beyond the projects, conferences, and board work, there are also the stories of individuals who have been personally affected by her generosity. “She has fostered collaborations among scientists, trained future groundbreaking leaders, and provided much needed encouragement to those engaged in confronting urgent and critical environmental challenges,” said F&ES Dean Peter Crane.

During the ceremony, some of those individuals, all from the F&ES community, shared stories of how Teresa Heinz has touched their lives. One beneficiary was Ian Cheney, ’02 B.A. ’04 M.E.M., a documentary filmmaker who received a Heinz Award in 2011 for film projects that “sprinkled humor and possibility” into coverage of the sustainable food movement. He said:

It was a tremendous boost financially to receive the Heinz Award… but even more than that it was a tremendous morale boost. In documentary, as in environmental work, it can be easy to be convinced on a day-to-day basis – on a bad day in particular – that the world doesn’t need you, or the world doesn’t want you. This award was in a way Teresa and others holding up a sign, saying, ‘Keep going! The world does need you.’ That the world needed what we were doing at the time, and have continued to do…

“I think most importantly of all, though, [Heinz] conveyed a sense that this was not an award saying, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done,’ so much as an award saying, ‘There’s still so much to be done.’… I think that combination of feeling simultaneously supported and challenged has been crucial in the years since for my own work in documentary film. Your vision has really emboldened me to take new risks and ask more difficult questions, and advance new ideas about sustainability.”

Rupal Patel ’16 M.E.M., a recipient of a Heinz scholarship, said the scholarship has made it possible for her to develop skills to address the public health challenges facing communities around the world.

“Some day I want to be part of global sustainable water management solutions that ensure access to integrated drinking water facilities for vulnerable populations… I am re-tooling my skill set now at F&ES in order to pursue effective change in the international water resource management sector. Eventually I’d like to work with International entities, such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations to provide city officials with the framework and the planning tools necessary in order to ensure sustainable development of water supply programs…

“I would like to thank you again and the Heinz Endowments for helping me pursue my goal of becoming a leader in the field of sustainable development. I never in my dreams believed I could be at such an illustrious institution as the Yale School of Forestry. It could not have been possible without your generosity.”

Likewise, Erin Beasley ’15 M.E.M., a native of the Pittsburgh region and recipient of a Heinz scholarship, told Heinz that the scholarship made it possible for her to come to F&ES, where she has had the chance to research cookstoves in Honduras, study community forestry in Mexico, and help create a mentoring day for high school students in New Haven.

“You have been a force for the cultural and environmental progress of our region, both through your own leadership and through the strategic giving of the Endowments. In the book that you published with Secretary of State Kerry you began with the quote that ‘politics is the art of possibility.’ And you go on to highlight the possibilities that environmental leaders help us to see. The possibilities for clean water, for healthy communities, for a stable climate, and for thriving ecosystems…

“When I think about the work that the Heinz Endowments has done in the Pittsburgh region, you have orchestrated a symphony of those possibilities for our region and for our world. You invest in leaders at all stages of our growth: in creative art programs for children, in after-school programs for teens, economic development in our communities. And you invest in the knowledge and ideas that are produced at institutions like the Yale School of Forestry. Those programs have helped me and many others to build a personal sense of curiosity, delight, and engagement in the world around us. In Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, and globally.”

Finally, there was Paul Anastas, The Teresa and H. John Heinz III Professorship in Chemistry for the Environment at F&ES. Anastas said he keeps his Heinz Medal on his nightstand. To receive that medal from Teresa Heinz, whom he called a champion “of all that I view as being sacred,” was akin to being “knighted”:

“But my queen didn’t receive her royalty from birth or lineage. But rather it was bestowed because of the deeds and works that are at the fusion of knowledge and wonder and empowerment, of instigation and inspiration. And so I knew – and I said that night – that if recognition and the value of that recognition comes from the degree of respect that you hold for those who bestow it upon you, I would never need another award.

“For the last three weeks, around here there’s been a buzz that Teresa Heinz would be receiving the highest honor that this School can bestow. The honor of the Leopold Medal. But that’s not the way I see it. The way I see it, it’s the School that’s being honored by your acceptance. And that it is because you have accepted our recognition that makes the Leopold Medal that much more of an honor.”

Speaking to the crowd, Heinz confessed that she feels some envy toward Yale students for the chances they have to study “things I haven’t had time [for] or am behind on” — and for the chance to make the world a safer and more beautiful place.

“You have a great opportunity here,” she said. “And it’s a great treat to know that you’re here, committed as you are. And nothing could honor me more for what I’ve been trying to do… I’ve planted seeds all over the place, and I hope they grow.”

(Photo by Michael Marsland)