Theodore Sorensen

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I have nothing momentous to say except that I was sad to hear of his death today.

By the time I met him, when I was a downtrodden speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, Sorensen was already the unmatchable icon of the craft. That was an awkward time to meet him -- Carter had nominated him as CIA director, but the nomination had to be withdrawn because of Sorensen's conscientious-objector status during World War II. But in my experience he was gracious then and afterwards. Two points for now about that trait:

- Most of the times I talked with him were at reunions of White House speechwriters, from both parties, a group in which he was the king. In my observation, people in that dominant role either rub it in by lording it over everyone else -- there are lots of names I could supply here, but for convenience I'll say Donald Trump -- or they go the other way, being confident enough to be completely modest-seeming and directing attention to others. (The George HW Bush model, let's say.) Whatever pride lay behind it, Sorensen could not have been more gracious to people who looked up to him. I never heard this line from him, but often heard versions of it about him: When an ambitious young person would say that he or she wanted to "be another Ted Sorensen," he would say, "No, you want to work for another John F. Kennedy."

- For most of the past nine years, Sorensen was practically blind. He acted in a gallant way as if this were not so, with his wife or a close friend or aide guiding him around obstacles and giving him cues about what he was seeing or who he was meeting. By chance I encountered him in Washington when my parents were visiting, about a year before my mother's death. "You are looking absolutely beautiful today, Mrs. Fallows," he told her after I introduced them. She was of course thrilled. I never told her the back story.

I am sorry that he is gone.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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