James L. Sorenson's legacy

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2008 12:21 a.m. MST

In political seasons, the fashion is to speak ill of the wealthy, as though they were a drain on society. James LeVoy Sorenson was a good counter-argument to that notion.

Imagine a world that never held Sorenson, who died Sunday in Salt Lake City. It would be a much poorer place. His mark was left on virtually every operating room in every hospital in the land. He held more than 40 medical patents. Disposable surgical masks, real-time heart monitoring systems, plastic IV catheters, automated IV drug pumps, continuous flushing catheters — all are Sorenson inventions.

In the world of business, he owned the parent company to 32 corporations as diverse as bioscience and real estate development. He held hundreds of millions of dollars in land holdings, including residential subdivisions, industrial parks, offices and retail centers. And he used much of his fortune (Forbes magazine ranked him last year as the 68th richest man in the nation) for charitable purposes, particularly during the final years of his life.

His nonprofit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation exists to create a worldwide genetic and genealogical database for use in ancestral research, among other things. When the tsunami hit Thailand in 2004, he donated equipment that allowed DNA tests to be made of the dead, which helped to identify them and match them to living relatives.

One day, his DNA database could help map inheritance patterns worldwide and fight diseases. It also could be an invaluable tool for people who want to understand their relationships with others. As he told this newspaper more than four years ago, the idea is to emphasize how all people are connected. "We are all brothers," he said. "If I wanted to be remembered, it would be to have a hand in helping the world be a more peaceful place."

Yes, Sorenson amassed wealth, and he did so primarily because he was able to identify needs and think up solutions that had eluded other people. Not bad for someone raised in poverty during the Great Depression, another time during which politicians liked to demonize wealthy business people.

Why is there such a propensity to dislike the wealthy? Perhaps because too many people labor under the economic fallacy that there is only one pie, and that anyone who takes a share is leaving less for others.

Sorenson proved it's possible to make the pie bigger and bigger, and that one man's success can make everyone else richer.

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