Sunday, October 31, 2010

Theodore Sorensen, 1928-2010

Theodore "Ted" Sorensen, noted speech writer for President John F. Kennedy, and a lawyer and political pundit in the decades since Kennedy's assassination, died Sunday in New York at the age of 82.

Sorensen, born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, and later a graduate with both undergrad and law degrees from the University of Nebraska, went to Washington, D.C. with absolutely no political experience nor any experience of the world outside of Nebraska, in 1951. Less than two years later, he was among the inner circle of Kennedy, then the young Senator from Massachusetts. He worked closely with Kennedy to draft a legislative program for the economic revitalization of New England. He was also closely involved in the writing of Kennedy's Pulitzer-prize-winning autobiography, Profiles in Courage (released in 1956).

When Kennedy made an outsider's run at the White House during the 1960 election, it was often only Kennedy and Sorensen who traveled across the country together, visiting each of the 50 states of the union. Sorensen drew on numerous sources for inspiration for Kennedy's speeches, the most famous of which was probably Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address in which he challenged American to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." As Kennedy's chief speech writer, Sorensen remained a staunch Kennedy policy advisor throughout the election and during Kennedy's time in office, and Sorensen was devastated at Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

For forty years following Kennedy's death, Sorensen practiced law in New York, and continued to write and give speeches, even past his 80th birthday. In 1970, Sorensen made a brief foray into politics himself, running for the Senate seat previously held by Robert Kennedy (until the latter's 1968 assassination). He was also nominated by Jimmy Carter to take over the C.I.A., until his pacifist views derailed that nomination.

Despite a stroke in 2001 that greatly reduced his eyesight, Sorensen remained active, and spent years finishing an autobiography that chronicled his time on the campaign trail with Kennedy and in the Kennedy White White, entitled Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (released in 2007).

Read the excellent, detailed obituary on the New York Times website.

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