Philip H. Sorensen, Ph.D.

December/26/1924 - July/22/2012

Phil Sorensen was a man who loved and lived his life. Sixty-two years to the day he and B.J. (Betty Jo) Lyon applied for their marriage license, Phil died. His beloved B.J., daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren were with him when he ascended his last mountain.

Phil was born in Bellingham, WA on December 26, 1924, and thereafter, that became ‘the’ holiday to celebrate. The family later settled in Vancouver, WA, where Phil joined the Boy Scouts and progressed quickly through the ranks, earning his Eagle Scout by age 14. Throughout high school he was an active Scout and summer camp counselor, a member of the swim team, newspaper editor, and student body officer.

Phil enlisted in Naval Officer Training in 1942, a month shy of his 18th birthday. He served as a navigator aboard the USS Adair in the Pacific until 1946 and as an Intelligence Officer in the Naval Reserve until 1985, reaching the rank of Commander.

After he and B.J. married in Spokane, they settled in Portland where Phil was a teacher and counselor in the public schools. In 1952 the family moved to Manhattan, KS and Phil served as the Assistant Dean of Students at Kansas State. Daughters Chris and Carolyn were born in Portland, OR and Cathy in Manhattan, KS.

Taking advantage of the GI bill benefits, Phil enrolled at Stanford University in 1954 to complete his Ph.D. in Psychology. He earned both his BA in 1948 in Education and Social Science (awarded Phi Beta Kappa) and his Masters in Educational Psychology in 1950 at Washington State University. He was a lifelong member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.

Phil accepted a position at Stanford Research Institute in 1956. For the next 27 years he worked as a Senior Research Psychologist and Director of the Education Research Department. He commuted to SRI from his Palo Alto home on his 3-speed bike. His work at SRI took him across the country and around the world, to Nigeria and Micronesia, and later, as independent consultant from 1983-1990, to Saudi Arabia. On the golf course, Phil scored five holes- in-one, relishing competing against himself, fellow duffers, his sons-in-law and grandsons. He was a strategic and spirited bridge player and once he gave up golf, he replaced it with lawn bowling. His ever-present pipe smoke announced his arrival and lingered upon his departure.

He and B.J. were enthusiastic travelers. When at home, they cherished time with their three daughters Chris, Carolyn (Steve Balling) and Cathy (Jon Buurma). Phil was proud of his grandsons Erik and Kevin Buurma, Corey Scher, and his granddaughter, Jordan Scher.

Phil loved to measure, evaluate, and report and spent hours tallying and analyzing trends and numbers on behalf of the Stanford Men’s Golf Club, the Fellowship Forum, and the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance, among many other community organizations and committees at the Sequoias. He took great joy in gardening and his expert touch with the pruning shears lingers in the gardens of homes he and the family occupied and in The Sequoia’s ‘Philoli’ Arboretum.

Phil shared his remarkable memory with friends and family, describing when asked, every mountain climbed, math problem solved, story heard, and place explored.

He loved his wife and dancing with her, mountain climbing, golf, his daughters and their husbands, making puns, his grandchildren, analyzing and solving problems, his sisters and their families, jazz of all kinds, his mother-in-law and her family, a generous pour of bourbon, his lifelong friends, and voting as a Democrat. A celebration of Phil’s life will be held August 18, 2012 from 3:00 pm-5:00 pm at The Sequoias, 501 Portola Road, Portola Valley,CA.

Gifts in memory of Phil can be made to
The Sequoias-Portola Valley Tomorrow Fund Endowment, which assists residents who run short of financial resources. Please make checks payable to Senior Services for Northern California and mail to 501 Portola Road, Box 8053, Portola Valley, CA 94028.


We welcome your questions, comments or suggestions. Please feel free to contact us.

Note: If clicking the above link does not open a contact window, please click here.