James LeVoy Sorenson is a man of few words.

Yet his life's work speaks volumes.

At a rare public appearance Tuesday speaking to members of the Salt Lake Rotary Club, the 81-year-old medical-device pioneer reminisced about his past and future, indicating retirement was not an option.

Most might view that leaning as unusual for a man who has amassed an estimated $2.2 billion fortune and ranks as Forbes magazine's 177th richest person in the world.

"There's a lot of things I want to see happen," Sorenson said. "I love the work I do. I love to innovate things and see people live longer, better and happier."

His latest mission, which he describes as the "big one," involves the makeup of a monumental DNA database, allowing people to trace their ancestry.

Known as the Molecular Genealogy Research Project, Sorenson's company is gathering DNA samples from around the world, mapping inheritance patterns against which future customers will be able to compare their own DNA.

"People want to do this work, and we want to help them do it," Sorenson said.

In addition to his DNA work and some 50 patents to his name, Sorenson's holdings encompass nine companies that employ more than 500 people. Sorenson Development Inc., the parent corporation, also operates a 400,000-acre cattle ranch and farming operation in Millard County.

His inventions have benefited medicine, the deaf and even Hollywood. Lucasfilm used Sorenson's technology to compress, store and send gigabytes of information for "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace." The same technology was used this year during the war in Iraq by dozens of news producers in transmitting television reports back to the United States.

"Dad also has a great love for his family and mankind," said son James L. Sorenson, chief executive of Sorenson Media. "You see it by the types of businesses and products he is involved in."

For the elder Sorenson, who turns 82 in July, one concept that has ensured success is the word "yet."

" 'Yet' can change the whole attitude almost immediately," he said. "There are basically two types of thoughts: 'I can't do it' attitude or 'I can't do it yet.' Put the 'yet' in it, it opens the door."


E-mail: danderton@desnews.com