The Keys lost one of the island chain’s most dynamic political figures on Friday.
Ken Sorensen, 77, died by his wife Diane's side, family friend Norman Higgins said. The cause of death was not immediately known. Tragically, his death came eight years to the day the Sorensens' son, Mark Sorensen, lost a two-year battle against lung cancer at age 48.
Sorensen, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot, quickly climbed the political ladder in Monroe County and gradually became a major player in the state Republican machine.
His influence and knowledge of state politics was so in demand that Florida's GOP senator and possible vice presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, hired Sorensen to work on his successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010 against then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Sorensen was also a powerful senior member of Rubio's staff when the senator was elected state House speaker in 2006.
Sorensen served District 120 in the Florida House of Representatives from 1998 until he was term-limited out in 2006. Ron Saunders, who now represents District 120, which includes the Keys, had a close professional relationship with Sorensen. In fact, some of Sorensen's Republican staff now works for Saunders, a Democrat.
"I've known him when was county commissioner, and I was an assistant county attorney. He was a good legislator and well respected in Tallahassee and will be missed by friends and family," Saunders said.
Sorensen moved to the Key Largo in the late 1960s from Coral Gables, where he saw the influx of drugs as a danger to his five children, according to a 2009 interview.
He was soon appointed to the county Planning and Zoning Board, which led to a successful bid for the Monroe County Commission, where he served from 1980 to 84, including two years as county mayor.
His accomplishments include a 35-foot building height limit and creating the first countywide planning department funded through building fees. He also helped create Harry Harris Park in Tavernier and Watson Park on Big Pine Key.
Outside of government, Sorensen led the charge to help save what became Mariners Hospital and helped create the Upper Keys Sailing Club. He has served on various local and state boards and committees. Sorensen also operated local businesses, including the former Key Largo Shopper, Denny's Liquors and what is now Dillon's Pub and Grill and Bill's Liquors.
Besides his wife Diane, Sorensen is survived by daughters Susan Sallet and Holly Johnston, sons Matthew and John Sorensen, as well as several grandchildren.
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