Tributes to Ted Sorensen


Theodore C. "Ted" Sorensen (1928-2010)

Theodore C. "Ted" Sorensen (1928-2010) served the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life for ten years as founding chair of the Center's International Advisory Board.

In 2009 the Center's undergraduate fellowship program was named for Ted Sorensen. The Sorensen Fellowship seeks to engage Brandeis undergraduates with constructive social change on the international stage, an appropriate tribute to Ted Sorensen.

In the days following his passing, tributes to and remembrances of Ted came to us at the Center. We share some of these below.


Richard Goldstone, Chair, International Advisory Board

Sari Nusseibeh, International Advisory Board member

Shiranee Tilakawardane, International Advisory Board member

Norbert Weissberg, International Advisory Board member

Wei Zonglei, Chinese Translator of Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, 2001 Ethics Center Visiting Scholar

Kayla Dinces, 2010 Sorensen Fellow,  Brandeis University Class of 2012

Christopher Lau, 2010 Sorensen Fellow, Brandeis University Class of 2012

Tess Raser, 2010 Sorensen Fellow, Brandeis University Class of 2012

Madeleine Stix, 2010 Sorensen Fellow, Brandeis University Class of 2012

Jonah Seligman, Brandeis University Class of 2010

Ted Sorensen will be deeply missed by his many friends and admirers in many countries on all continents. His friends came to love Ted for his gentle manner, his wisdom and his inspiration for commitment to service to humankind.

It was my great privilege to come to know Ted on two boards. The first was an advisory committee for Brandeis University’s International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life. The second was the board of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

It was a daunting challenge for me to replace Ted last year as the chair of the Ethics Center’s Advisory Board. His generous attendance at the first meeting I chaired did much to ease that transition and I was so grateful to him for his generous gesture.

Friendship with Ted carried with it the additional blessing of coming to know members of his warm family, especially Gillian, who meant so much to him. Her support for Ted in the recent years was as inspiring as it was unobtrusive and yet so important to Ted's confidence.

We will miss Ted Sorensen and rejoice in a life that was full, meaningful and an inspiration to so many.

Richard Goldstone, Chair, International Advisory Board

It is with deep sadness that I received news of the passing away of our good friend Ted. To me he always seemed to represent what is good – and what people overseas are often told is good – about America. He combined wisdom with human passion, humility with mental sharpness, and an honesty not tarnished by arrogance.

A man above reproach.

I share my heartfelt condolences with our colleagues and his family.
Sari Nusseibeh, International Advisory Board member

I received the sad news of the demise of Mr. Ted Sorensen with a deep sense of loss, not just to me personally, but I feel the world has lost a valued and treasured human being.

Ted Sorensen was the personification of the core value of human rights. He extended human dignity and respect to all, irrespective of who they were. He saw into the soul of the human person, treating everyone he came across with equal warmth and sincerity. 

As a stranger who joined the Ethics Center’s Advisory Board I was struck at the sincere friendship and love Ted Sorensen extended to me, his courteous, warm and sensitive understanding of someone from a different culture. Diversity was embraced by Ted Sorensen, as only a tool to exchange and understand each other.  His wisdom and stature sat lightly on his broad shoulders, because all one saw was his sensitivity and care to reach out and give a helping hand. I will sorely miss him at our Board meetings.

I know that you must be devastated and sad, but we have to use his life to model our own. He will never be lost entirely to all of us who knew and dearly loved him. Take care and God bless.

Shiranee Tilakawardane, International Advisory Board member

Thanks for the opportunity to say something about Ted Sorensen.
Of course, I'm among the many who bathed in Ted's brilliant effectiveness when he was Chair of the Advisory Board of the Brandeis University’s International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.
It's another event I remember more vividly, however. Leaving a Board meeting in Waltham several years ago, it turned out Ted had a reservation on the same New York City-bound plane as Judy and I. So we provided his escort to Logan and sat with him for close to two hours until plane delays were finally rectified.
I knew Ted Sorensen loved stories about Ted Williams, the Red Sox slugger, so as an opening gambit I reported to him the bizarre content of an article I had recently read stating that poor Ted Williams’ head had been separated from his body and was being cryogenically preserved by his son in some place fit for that sort of thing. Without pause, Ted Sorensen replied: "That'll be hell for his batting average."
Typical of his wit, which so ably veined everything he did.
Norbert Weissberg, International Advisory Board member

It is such a quake shock for me to know Ted has left us forever.

The Chinese version of Counselor is warmly read among Chinese readers, mainland and overseas. [They] comment, "Sorensen is a hero behind the scene;" "Ted has reached high and kept low, such a great character!" In my translation note I wrote that Sorensen followed JFK  for eleven years, while JFK  accompanied Sorensen for a lifetime. Many people died for a person to  live, but few people live for the dead one.

Ted set up an excellent example, with his unique life-long loyalty, principle and contribution. Ted is still alive. He will live forever in our heart, across borders and transcending the world.

Wei Zonglei, Beijing, China, Chinese Translator of Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, 2001 Ethics Center Visiting Scholar

A remembrance of Ted Sorensen by Wei Zonglei was published in China Daily, China's English-language national newspaper. Read it here.

I am proud to have learned and explored a part of the world under the auspices of a fellowship in Mr. Sorensen’s name. As a 2010 Sorensen Fellow, I feel I was able to extend his legacy, in the minutest sense, to a place and people I would never have known otherwise.
My work in Mumbai, India, with slum children at the Parivartan School extended my views of the world exponentially. The role of public service in order to create social change is something I believe in strongly, and I think Mr. Sorensen’s work and life reflected these values as well.
Words such as “change” have different meaning for me now. I have come to recognize that much more than good intentions are necessary to make a real difference in marginalized people’s lives, and what is “right” depends so much upon cultural relevancy. I learned it is necessary to open my eyes to inequalities that are right in front of me, and that little changes can be extremely powerful and have a real impact. You can learn so much by looking around you and affecting those in your immediate path, things that Mr. Sorensen did regularly.
Mr. Sorensen was hugely influential in American and international politics and life. He worked at a time of immense importance in U.S history. The influence of his words has been felt across generations and I am grateful that they reached me in my undergraduate career.
I feel sincerely honored to have briefly met Mr. Sorensen this past spring when he visited Brandeis and know that I was interacting with a man with such a wide range of experience on the international stage. He was truly inspirational, and I feel lucky to have done work in his name.

Kayla Dinces, 2010 Sorensen Fellow,  Brandeis University Class of 2012

I am deeply saddened to hear that Mr. Sorensen passed away, and wish his family the best during this difficult time.    

It has been an honor being a Sorensen Fellow, to be associated with a man whose dedication to public service has been truly inspiring. I plan on becoming a lawyer in the future, and would like to dedicate my career to pursuing a branch of law that impacts people in a positive way on a daily basis.

I was honored to meet Mr. Sorensen last year, and was struck by his humble demeanor, intelligence, and idiosyncratic sense of humor. I specifically remember him asking me, “Who is the president of China?” I was puzzled, and responded, “Hu Jintao.” He repeated the question again. I responded with “Hu.” It took me a while to realize that he wasn’t asking me a question; instead, he was simply stating “Hu is the president of China.” That was one of the best jokes I’ve ever heard, and everyone present at the reception had a good laugh.

This summer, I was an English teacher through WorldTeach in a village high up in the Ecuadorian Andes. At the local primary school, I taught four classes of English to children in the community ages 6 to 17.

Living with a wonderful host family who taught me all about farm life, I woke up each morning to the sounds of roosters outside my bedroom and brushed my teeth at the outdoor sink with the lush, green Andean hills in the background.  It sounds cliché, but I learned a lot in Ecuador about life, and came back to the United States as a more humbled human being. Without this experience, I also would not have been able to explore a side of myself that I never knew existed.

I wish I could have related my experiences in Ecuador to Mr. Sorensen. I am honored to be a Sorensen Fellow.

Christopher Lau, 2010 Sorensen Fellow, Brandeis University Class of 2012

I'm proud to be a Sorensen Fellow and to be associated with this great man. In my work in Moshi, Tanzania, I worked with an NGO that provided micro-loans, vocational training and legal counseling for women. I feel very grateful that I was able to have this experience and especially to have it through the Ethics Center. The Ethics Center is always pushing students to work for social justice. Thus, the namesake of my fellowship has never been a question.

Mr. Sorensen is inspiring to me because he ultimately worked for social justice. My condolences to the Sorensen family.

Tess Raser, 2010 Sorensen Fellow, Brandeis University Class of 2012

Embodied in the most famous phrase of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” is the call to service that resonates so perfectly with the namesake of the Sorensen Fellowship.

Ted Sorensen was not just the “intellectual alter ego” and speechwriter of President John F. Kennedy; he was central to diplomatic and foreign relations at essential times. Kennedy relied on Sorensen, for Sorensen knew how to negotiate the world in changing times. This, too, is why the Ethics Center’s Sorensen Fellowship is so aptly named.
While I’ve never had to negotiate a country out of nuclear war, the Sorensen Fellowship provided me with the opportunity to become accustomed and work around new and changing cultures.

After seeing Garbage Dreams, an inspiring documentary film about a recycling community in Cairo struggling to maintain their livelihood, I wanted to take action to aid in the struggle. Through the Sorensen Fellowship I worked at a small NGO called the Spirit of Youth Association trying to develop and formalize this recycling community through education and reorganizing the waste management system.

Every day I was exposed to something new, whether it was the Arabic language, new recycling processes, or traditional customs. The people I worked with came from very different places and grew up in very different ways from me. Yet I learned how to work with them in a way that we could understand each other while working towards our ultimate goal – to maintain the livelihood of a group of marginalized individuals.

I’m proud to be a Sorensen Fellow because I too am a part of a new generation of Americans who want to take action to improve the relations of people in an increasingly globalized world. Ted Sorensen has served as my inspiration to continue to explore and negotiate the world.

Madeleine Stix, 2010 Sorensen Fellow, Brandeis University Class of 2012

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ted Sorensen yesterday. I also feel very privileged and honored not only to have met him, but to have had real, meaningful interactions with him on two separate occasions. The event where a group of students had dinner with Mr. Sorensen and he later spoke about presidential inaugural addresses (and where I had the pleasure to introduce him) was a highlight of my Brandeis experience, a truly great memory.

For me, one of the great delights of attending Brandeis was the opportunity to hear from and even meet with great thinkers and leaders. I am forever grateful to all of you for helping to make possible my interactions with Mr. Sorensen. I hope that Brandeis continues its tradition of building the next generation of leaders by exposing them to current and former decision-makers and great minds.

Jonah Seligman, Brandeis University Class of 2010