The Power of a Voice – In Memory of Ted Sorensen

Speechwriter Ted Sorensen at the White House

When Jack Kennedy spoke, the world paid attention. His words came clearly, shining through his heavy New England accent and delivering his message. He spoke often of hope, and service, and the aspirations of all human beings. Kennedy calmed a nation in crisis, raised up a volunteer army for peace, and inspired us to shoot for the moon.

And behind the scenes, crafting the language, creating the message, was Theodore C. “Ted” Sorensen.

Sorensen was a quiet young man from Nebraska, whose words would help a President leave an indelible mark on the world. He wrote with a simplicity and an elegance that many have tried to imitate, and none have ever matched. Kennedy’s inaugural address was only 14 minutes long, yet it stands among the best in the history of the US Presidency.

Different Men, Similar Minds

Sorensen and Kennedy were different in many ways. Sorensen was quiet, shy, bookish and reserved. He didn’t have the grandiosity and charisma that Kennedy used to charm the nation. However, the two men found in each other a similar intellectual drive. They worked brilliantly together, with Kennedy calling Sorensen, “My intellectual blood-bank.” The two worked so closely with one another, that scholars and historians have some difficulty determining who actually wrote what in Kennedy’s speeches.

The Power of Words

Sorensen’s speech-writing for President Kennedy is a clear example of how powerful and moving a good speech can be. Sorensen helped draft a letter to Soviet Premier Khrushchev that helped end the Cuban Missile Crisis. He penned the words that set NASA on a mission to land men on the moon. He and President Kennedy told us that we should “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Sorensen did much for his country.

Theodore C. Sorensen died on October 31, 2010 due to complications from a stroke. He was 82 years old. His words inspired millions, and helped change the world. His legacy is written in the history books. It’s down to us to carry on, saying things that matter and saying them with as much grace as we can muster.