Scroll to the bottom of this story to watch a video published July 31, 2008, in which Sorensen reflects on his time at USC.
Former University of South Carolina president Andrew Sorensen died suddenly Sunday. He was 72.
Sorensen, the 27th USC president who served from July 2002 to July 2008, was chief fund-raiser for Ohio State University when he died.
No cause of death was given by Ohio State, which posted a notice Sunday on its Internet site.
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While at USC, Sorensen became known for both his colorful, energetic personal style — symbolized by his trombone-playing, bow ties and penchant for riding a bicycle around campus — as well as his leadership on multiple fronts.
When USC’s board of trustees hired Sorensen in 2002, he was 63 years old and — because of his near-retirement age — many believed he would be a “caretaker” president while the board searched for a younger president with more longevity potential.
Sorensen quickly demonstrated he was no caretaker. His outreaches to the city of Columbia, efforts to position USC and South Carolina as a leader in energy technology, his “green” building initiatives, and strengthening of ties to the local and state African-American community won him rave reviews from many.
“He was a transformational figure and a close friend,” said Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, who in his 20 years as mayor knew the two presidents who preceded Sorensen — Jim Holderman, who became the first former USC president to be sentenced to federal prison, and John Palms, who received generally good marks for helping revive USC after scandals in the Holderman years.
Coble said under Sorensen “transformed city-university and town-gown relations to where we were in a partnership in economic development and everything else.”
When USC chose Sorensen, he was an outsider with little experience of South Carolina. Born in Pittsburgh, he was raised in Illinois. He graduated from universities in Illinois, Michigan and Connecticut. He had a degree in divinity from Yale, as well as degrees in history and public health.
From 1996 to 2002, he served as president of the University of Alabama. Before that, he was provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of Florida and executive director of the AIDS Institute at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
Once in South Carolina, Sorensen quickly delved into local affairs, taking bus tours around the state to meet folks in every corner of the state. He read with students in local public schools. On occasion, he played his trombone with USC’s marching band. His many interests were the logical extension of a scholarly mind — he was the author of six books, whose subjects ranged from alcoholism in the priesthood to the role of university presidents.
Early on, he astonished Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, one of the state’s few African-American senators, by calling him and asking him if he could speak at Jackson’s church, Bible Way of Atlas Road, which with 12,000 members, is one of the state’s largest churches.
“He said he wanted to reach out to the African-American community in a way that USC presidents had never reached out before,” said Jackson.
Sorensen, an ordained minister, wowed the congregation, recalled Jackson Sunday.
“Some people say they want to reach out and don’t mean it,” said Jackson. “With him, what he said was genuine. I loved Dr. Sorensen. He was a great man.”
To be successful at USC, where so many alumni are passionate about sports — especially football — an ideal president’s term in office should be marked by good athletic teams.
And Sorensen proved he had the right stuff there. Under his watch, USC hired football coach Steve Spurrier, who last year took the team to an SEC championship game.
Sorensen was also known for:
Recruiting nationally known academic stars to campus and constructing new buildings designed for cutting-edge research.
Forging alliances with the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and Clemson in the Upstate.
Working with the Guignard family, major landowners in Columbia, to jointly plan development of a 500-acre swath of riverfront property in downtown Columbia.
Sorensen made his mark another way. In 2002, when he was hired, his salary from public and private sources was higher than any other USC president in history.— $420,000 a year in addition to free university housing in the president’s mansion.
By the time he left office, Sorensen made $550,877 a year.
A statement announcing Sorensen’s death was posted on the Web site of Ohio State University, where he was serving as senior vice president for development, president of the Ohio State University Foundation and special assistant to the president for advancement.
The statement, from Ohio State University president Gordon Gee, was called a "Loss in Ohio State Family."
The statement is as follows:
"It is with great sadness that I write to inform our University community of the unexpected death today of Andrew Sorensen, senior vice president for development, president of The Ohio State University Foundation, and special assistant to the president for advancement.
“One of the country’s most distinguished leaders in higher education, Dr. Sorensen joined Ohio State last September. He brought enormous energy, wisdom, and wit to his work, and his passion for public higher education made him an uncommonly effective advocate for the University.
“Dr. Sorensen’s leadership of our advancement effort was particularly strong, aligning the interests of our alumni and friends with the work of our students, faculty, and staff.
“Prior to joining Ohio State, Dr. Sorensen served as president of the University of South Carolina and the University of Alabama. He was provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Florida, executive director of the AIDS Institute at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.”
Dr. Sorensen stepped down as USC president back in July 2008. He said it was time for he and his wife to enter another phase of their lives.
A self-described high-energy person who needed little sleep, Sorensen once told a State reporter, “I’ve never been accused of having too few ideas.” He paused, then added, “I do have more dreams.”