The Talent

October 31, 2010 8:30 PM

Theodore Sorensen, 82, Kennedy Adviser and Lawyer, Dies

Posted by Ed Shanahan

GettyImages_50554228 Theodore Sorensen, a lawyer and writer who served as a key adviser and speechwriter to President John F. Kennedy, died Sunday. He was 82. The cause of death was complications from a stroke suffered a week ago, The New York Times reported.

Sorensen, who over the last several decades practiced at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, was best known as President Kennedy's primary speechwriter. He was responsible, the Times wrote, for "passages of soaring rhetoric, including [Kennedy's] 1961 inaugural address proclaiming that 'the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans' and challenging citizens: 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.'" He first was hired as a researcher by Kennedy, then a newly elected junior senator from Massachusetts, in early 1953. Over time, Sorensen came to be seen as Kennedy's alter ego.

Early on in his tenure with Kennedy, Sorensen worked on the senator's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage. It was in the decades after Kennedy's assassination that it became clear just how extensive Sorensen's role had been on the book. With his autobiography Counselor, published in the spring of 2008, Sorensen revealed more details about the nature of his work on Profiles. "While in Washington, I received from Florida almost daily instructions and requests by letter and telephone--books to send, memoranda to draft, sources to check, materials to assemble, and Dictaphone drafts or revisions of early chapters." He explained that Kennedy focused mostly on the first and last chapters, "setting the tone and philosophy of the book," while Sorensen himself "did a first draft of most chapters" and "helped choose the words of many of its sentences".

A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, Sorensen received his J.D. and his undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska. He practiced at Paul Weiss for more than three decades as a senior partner and of counsel, focusing on international law. He advised U.S. corporations on factories in Russia and Africa, pipelines in the Caribbean and Latin America, and disputes in the Middle East and North America, and negotiated on their behalf with government officials at the highest level in dozens of countries, according to his profile on Paul Weiss's Web site.

In a statement issued to the firm Sunday afternoon, Paul Weiss chairman Brad Karp described Sorensen as "a giant, a national treasure, who served our nation and our law firm with great distinction for more than 50 years. Ted was a remarkable man who lived a remarkable life to the fullest extent imaginable, a life marked by grace, wit, wisdom, brilliance, and integrity....Ted was a continual font of wisdom, energy and good humor. Ted was an irrepressible force and friend, always on the side of right and justice."

Sorensen is survived by his wife Gillian Martin; their daughter, Juliet Sorensen Jones; three sons from his first marriage, Eric, Stephen and Phil; a sister, Ruth Singer; a brother, Phillip; and seven grandchildren.


Photo: Getty Images / Paul Schutzer, Time & Life Pictures (Sorensen in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., December 1960)

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