A Counselor's Wisdom

The following article, written by Ethics Center Director Daniel Terris, appeared in the Winter/Spring 2009 issue of "Ethics Central," the center's biannual newsletter.

On a cold, windy day in 1961, with wintry sunshine glaring off the newly fallen snow, a man of 32 years old, "tense, thrilled, excited but anxious," listened to the inaugural address of the newly elected president of the United States. All America was rapt with attention, but for this listener, the speech had personal resonance. After all, they were his words.

Perhaps Ted Sorensen has had a hand in drafting the 2009 inaugural address as well. He has been closely associated with Barack Obama's campaign almost since its inception, and he played a key role in drawing public parallels between two young senators who ran for president nearly half a century apart.

Whether or not he has contributed directly to the new president's historic speech, there is no question that the long shadow of his influence will be felt. For it is safe to say that there are few individuals in American history who have contributed so much to the substance and style of presidential rhetoric as Theodore C. Sorensen.

At the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, we have benefited not only from Ted Sorensen's sterling way with words, but also from the wisdom accumulated over his career as a speechwriter, campaigner, counselor, public servant, international lawyer and statesman. In 1999, Jehuda Reinharz asked Ted if he would be willing to serve as the founding chair of the advisory board for a new Brandeis venture, a center that would build bridges between academic and professional life.

Ted Sorensen accepted, and through his reputation and charm he has over the past 10 years helped us assemble an extraordinary advisory board that has included world leaders in government, law and diplomacy. His thoughtful and witty leadership of our board meetings, and his advice between those meetings, has helped us maintain a delicate balance between idealism and pragmatism.

After a decade of service, Ted has announced that he is stepping down as chair of the center's advisory board, after the 10th annual meeting in March 2009. I am pleased to announce that another founding board member of international distinction, Judge Richard Goldstone, has agreed to succeed Ted as chair.

Ted Sorensen's favorite among President Kennedy's speeches was the stirring address that he gave in June 1963 at American University: "Genuine peace," Kennedy said, "must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process — a way of solving problems."

Theodore C. Sorensen has been one of the pillars of our efforts to contribute to this process of peace. We are grateful.