James LeVoy Sorenson was a real estate magnate, inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder of Sorenson Companies, which is the parent company of over thirty corporations.
Sorenson was born on July 30, 1921, in Rexburg, Idaho, to Joseph LeVoy and Emma Blaser Sorenson. He was raised in poverty in Yuba City, California, and was considered retarded by his first schoolteacher. His condition was later diagnosed as dyslexia. He began working at age eight selling magazines door-to-door and harvesting almonds. After graduating from high school, he attended Sierra College in Rocklin, California, on a basketball scholarship, but his pre-med studies were halted by both World War II and his mission to the New England States for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he was a member. After his mission, he attended one semester at the University of Utah. He enlisted in the Maritime Service and went to officer’s training in Shepherd Bay, New York. He also completed a pharmacy internship through the Officers Candidate School. In Manhattan he met his wife, Beverley Taylor. They were married on July 23, 1946.
His first job after release from the military was as a salesman for the Upjohn Company. After eight years with Upjohn, he cofounded Deseret Pharmaceutical Company. While calling on doctors, he noticed problems and later came up with solutions. Sorenson bought goat pasture in the hills above Salt Lake City for $25 an acre. That land is now some of the region’s most plush neighborhoods, overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. At one point, Sorenson owned nearly 68,000 acres in Utah, as well as land in Wyoming and California.
Sorenson also purchased a company of modest lingerie, which he renamed LeVoy’s. The company thrived, and in 1962 Sorenson was able to devote time to his passion for medicine when he created a medical device company he named Sorenson Research. His inventions included a disposable surgical mask, a real-time heart monitor, a catheter with continuous blood flushing to prevent clots, automated intravenous drug pumps, computerized digital imaging, and a thin-walled steel needle. Sorenson held about sixty patents. Abbott Laboratories acquired the company in 1980.
In 2000, Sorenson founded Sorenson Genomics, which offers genetic testing services. The company helped the Thai government in identifying victims of the 2004 tsunami. The company’s forensics unit also helped lead to arrests in about ten cold murder cases in Utah in its first year of operation.
Sorenson was considered the second richest man in Utah (following Jon Huntsman, Sr.). At one time he was ranked number 68 on the Forbes 400. At the time of his death, he left his fortune in the hands of the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, which Forbes estimated to be worth $4.5 billion.
Sorenson was a long-time supporter of organizations that serve disadvantaged children such as the Sorenson Multicultural Center in Salt Lake City, the Utah Youth Village, the YMCA of Greater Salt Lake and the Primary Children’s Medical Center. He also gave generously to health care facilities, Utah’s universities, and to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. He donated to religious organizations, including the Church of Jesus Christ. He made a significant donation for the restoration of the Nauvoo Temple and to the Perpetual Education Fund. On several occasions, he has purchased homes for single mothers in financial distress.
Sorenson and his wife Beverley were the parents of eight children. He died of cancer on January 20, 2008.