Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Memory: Ted Sorensen

The speechwriting community mourns the passing of a towering icon. Ted Sorensen, JFK's speechwriter, ghostwriter, and "intellectual alter ego" died Sunday at age 82. Sorensen, who penned much of Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage, became a close confidant and adviser to the future President during three years on the grueling campaign trail. In JFK's circle, he stood second only to Robert Kennedy (the pair were instrumental in diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, drafting a letter to Nikita Khrushchev that Sorensen counted among his greatest accomplishments). In the popular record, though, Sorensen is remembered most reverently as the speechwriter of JFK's 1961 era-defining inaugural address. Famously modest, he swore that the President's legendary challenge to "ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country" was Kennedy's coinage, but there's no doubting that Sorensen had a hand in his eloquence.

We've culled a few memorials and interviews from the sea of media honoring of the "poet of Camelot." What memories, tributes, or thoughts would you like to share about Sorensen?
  • The Washington Post remembers Sorensen's profound influence on JFK and The New York Times offers a tribute to the wordsmith of the White House, including a video obituary with clips from an interview with Sorensen.
  • Time, which admired the "sober, deadly earnest, self-effacing man with a blue steel brain" in 1960, highlights Sorensen's career from before and after Kennedy's thousand days in the White House.
  • In a snapshot view, the L.A. Times's brief but trenchant obit reminds us that Sorensen's well-wrought phrases derived power from his deep understanding of JFK's ideas and personality.
  • Former presidential speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, James Fallows, reminisces in The Atlantic about Sorensen's modesty and gallantry.
  • WNYC's website hosts past radio interviews with Sorensen from 1963 (in which he broke his silence on Vietnam) and 2008 (in which he explained why he felt that he owed history a personal memoir to complement his opus, Kennedy.)
  • Ragan CEO Mark Ragan interviewed Sorensen in 2008. In the video, Sorensen discusses the qualities that make a great speechwriter, pithily summarizes the speaking styles of politicians including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and recites what he calls the "model English sentence" from Churchill's speech after the battle of Dunkirk in WWII: "The news from France is very bad."

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