»Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.« These words, spoken by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address in 1961, have earned fame and significance all over the world. Last Sunday, on October 31, the author of this line, Theodore C. Sorensen, died at the age of 82 of the results of a stroke he suffered a week earlier.
Next to being JFK's (favorite) speech writer, Ted Sorensen also fulfilled a number of additional functions in the White House between 1961 and 1963. Playing a crucial role in the solution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962, Mr. Sorensen composed a letter to Khrushchev which had the vital appeasing effect. Mr. Sorensen furthermore advised the President, who he also happened to be a close friend and confidant of, on several other issues such as election tactics during his presidential campaign as well as, later on, foreign policy or national affairs issues. He was also an important contributor to »Profiles in Courage«, John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work published in 1955 – even though he constantly downplayed this fact.
Born in 1928 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Theodore Chaikin Sorensen, named after Theodore Roosevelt by his Republican father, arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1951 after graduating from the University of Nebraska. He was soon hired by John F. Kennedy, then-Senator of Massachusetts, fulfilling tasks such as speech-writing, creating legislative and other programs, and later actively supporting Jack during his campaign process, travelling from state to state. Just as it was for the rest of the world, President Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963 was a devastating moment of shock for Mr. Sorensen: »It was a feeling of hopelessness, of anger, of bitterness. That there was nothing we could do. There was nothing I could do.«
Sorensen spent the next forty years of his life practicing law as well as advising influential leaders such as Nelson Mandela (South Africa) or Answar Sadat (Egypt). Mr. Sorensen was also active as a public speaker, writer, as well as mentor to the youth. Always true to the Democratic Party, Mr. Sorensen furthermore endorsed Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency in 2008 and also went on a campaign tour throughout the United States. His autobiography Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, in which he elaborately describes his time at the side of John F. Kennedy, was released in 2008.
Ted Sorensen was far more than merely someone with an extraordinary ability for writing speeches rich in powerful rhetoric and poignant vocabulary. He also played a major role in an era which has compellingly shaped the history of the United States as well as the entire world. As Robert Kennedy once said, »If it was difficult, Ted Sorensen was brought in.« May future generations of world citizens always be aware of and honor his highly significant and grand legacy.