Theodore Sorensen

By James Fallows

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 That was an awkward time to meet him -- Carter had nominated him as CIA director, but the nomination had to be withdrawn because of Sorensen's conscientious-objector status during World War II.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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/theodore-sorensen/65471/