Quantcast

Utah billionaire James Sorenson dies

Published January 20, 2008 11:06 am

Forbes magazine estimated his worth at $4.5 billion
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 12:56 PM- James LeVoy Sorenson, who earned a fortune inventing groundbreaking medical devices and making wise real estate investments and then gave large sums of it back to the community as a philanthropist, died Sunday morning of cancer. He was 86.

Sorenson had been in hospice care at the end of a remarkable business career that helped remake medical care and left him Utah's wealthiest man, Forbes magazine estimating his worth last year at $4.5 billion.

The native of Rexburg, Idaho is best known for co-developing the first real-time computerized heart monitoring systems. But among his 50 patents were an array of pioneering medical devices, including disposable surgical masks, noninvasive intravenous catheters, and blood-recycling and -infusion systems.

His interests have branched into genetic genealogy research and the formation of companies and organizations. That work helped identification testing after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Through the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, his family name is affixed to numerous Utah buildings and organizations - health-care facilities and programs, community centers, places of worship for a variety of religions, teacher education programs, fine arts programs for children in public schools, and curriculum, facilities and equipment that aid the deaf.

"Jim Sorenson was dedicated to making people's lives better," said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., whose father, Jon Huntsman Sr., is Utah's second richest citizen on Forbes list at $1.9 billion. "His entrepreneurialism and creativity in both the medical fields and business were made only more impressive by his philanthropic endeavors which have served to greatly benefit our state. We hope the Sorenson family will be comforted by the memory of his wonderful life."

Sorenson emerged from humble beginnings. In his autobiography "Finding the Better Way," he described his upbringing as a "Grapes of Wrath" story, his family driven by the Depression to move from a struggling farm near Rexburg, Idaho to California. Financial hardships were compounded by learning difficulties, an elementary school teacher once telling his mother he was mentally retarded and probably incapable of reading.

But like his father, Sorenson vowed to never give up. He did learn to read. He prided himself on learning something new every day. By 1955, he was a drug salesman for Upjohn Co., lucratively dabbling in real estate on the side.

He watched an 11-year-old boy die on an operating table in what is now called Salt Lake Regional Medical Center and took note of equipment problems the emergency-room doctors faced trying to stem the boy's massive bleeding. Sorenson set his analytical and logical mind to work, devising scores of instruments that quickly moved from being state-of-the-art to commonplace in medical institutions.