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1 November 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:10am

Ted Sorensen, 1928–2010

In praise of the man whose words gave us hope.

By Rob Higson

Theodore Sorensen, speechwriter to President John F Kennedy, died, aged 82, after a stroke hospitalised him last Friday.

Sorensen is best known for the period in which he served as special counsel and speechwriter to Kennedy (1961 to 1963). He also later served as special counsel to President Lyndon B Johnson in 1963 and 1964.

Despite partial blindness from an earlier stroke, he had been maintaining an active schedule, and kept an office as a retired senior partner of the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York.

Sorensen first joined the staff of the newly elected Senator Kennedy in 1953 and quickly grew close to him despite the differences in background between the two men.

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He maintained a great affection and personal admiration for Kennedy. After his assassination in Dallas he wrote: “Deep in my soul, I have not stopped weeping, whenever those events are recalled.”

And he told an interviewer in 2006, “Sometimes I still dream about him.”

Sorensen will be remembered best for his role in the 1961 presidential inaugural address – “ask not what your country can do for you” – and Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage, which he described as a collaborative effort involving himself and Kennedy, and which won a Pulitzer prize in 1957.

Up until his dying day, Sorensen defended the idealism of speech and the power of mere words to change the world. His death leaves the world a lesser place.

You can read many of Kennedy’s speeches on the JFK Presidential Library and Museum website and can listen to Sorensen discuss his 2008 memoir Counsellor: a Life at the Edge of History here.


You can follow Rob Higson on Twitter.