Deseret Morning News archives
James LeVoy Sorenson

The family of Utah inventor and billionaire philanthropist James LeVoy Sorenson said Monday that he willed his entire personal fortune to charity.

Sorenson died of cancer last month at age 86.

Last year, Forbes Magazine estimated his wealth to be approximately $4.5 billion.

Sorenson was known for his numerous medical inventions and successful business endeavors, in addition to his dedication to charitable causes. His son, James Lee Sorenson, said his father had talked about leaving his vast fortune behind to help various worthy causes.

"Over time, particularly the last 10 to 20 years having been successful, he asked himself, 'What is it that I can do with my wealth?' And he came to this conclusion."

James Lee Sorenson said the Sorenson Legacy Foundation will administer and choose which deserving organizations will receive gifts from his father's estate. Previous beneficiaries of gifts from the foundation have included $5 million to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation's largest university for the deaf and hearing-impaired, and the University of Utah.

James Sorenson was born in Rexburg, Idaho, during the Great Depression and grew up in Yuba City, Calif., where teachers thought he was mentally retarded and told his mother he would never learn to read. It was decades later the he learned his childhood disorder was dyslexia.

After working as a pharmaceutical sales representative, he began his career as an entrepreneur in 1957, when he co-founded Deseret Pharmaceutical and invented the first disposable paper surgical mask and first modern intravenous catheter, both of which quickly became standard equipment in health care.

He eventually would become the owner of a parent company to 32 corporations in industries that included medicine, bioscience and manufacturing.

"He started with nothing or less than nothing and built it from the ground floor," his son has said.

Sorenson held more than 40 medical patents. He is perhaps best known for co-developing the first real-time computerized heart monitor. He also invented the plastic venous catheter and a blood recycling system for trauma and surgical procedures.

His philanthropic endeavors included founding the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a nonprofit research organization that is creating a worldwide, correlated genetic and genealogical database used in ancestry research.

He also gave more than $30 million for restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' temple in Nauvoo, Ill. In 2004, he donated DNA testing kits to assist in identifying the dead following the tsunami in Thailand.

In Salt Lake City, Sorenson gave land and money to help build the Unity Center that bears his name at California Avenue and 900 West, next door to the Sorenson Multicultural Center.

Over the years, Sorenson also gave $22 million to Intermountain Healthcare, including $6 million to the new Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and $500,000 to Primary Children's Medical Center.

Although Sorenson bequeathed his estate to charity, his wife and family have also been well provided for, according to his son. Sorenson is survived by his Beverley Taylor Sorenson, his wife of 60 years, as well as two sons, six daughters, 47 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

James Lee Sorenson said he would like to see his father's legacy be remembered as one of invention, innovation and humanity.

"He was greatly blessed in his life and felt a great obligation and opportunity to be able to give back," said the younger Sorenson. "And in the end, that's what he did."