Paul S. Sarbanes
It is with the saddest of hearts that we dedicate this December issue of the Hellenic News of America to the longest-serving Greek American Senator the late Senator Paul Spyros Sarbanes. His passing will not only leave a void in the United States political landscape but also to people all over the world, as he was a champion of human rights for every ethnicity. It goes without saying, that his loss will be especially difficult for the Greek American Community, Greeks, and Cypriots all over the world. His leadership, poise, hard work ethic, and empathy were qualities that Greeks admired about him.
To the Greeks of Maryland, where he served the state for over 40 years, he was not just a politician, he was a member of our family because he carried himself as such. His support and attendance in various Greek community events such as fundraising bull roasts, the Greek Independence Day Parades, and the Hellenic photodocumentary exhibit of “Scattered in Foreign Lands” at the Walter’s Art Gallery, verified to the Greek community his love and support for them. During every event he attended, he always made sure that he spoke to everyone in attendance. His attentive and genuine caring for his people made it extremely difficult to hear the words from his son John who issued the statement about his passing on December 6, 2020, at the age of 87, “My father, Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, passed away peacefully this evening in Baltimore. Our family is grateful to know that we have the support of Marylanders who meant so much to him and whom he was honored to serve.”
Hellenic Heritage Ideals passed on from generation to generation
Paul Spyros Sarbanes was born in Salisbury, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on February 3, 1933. He was the son of Greek immigrants Matina Tsigounis and Spyros P. Sarbanes, both immigrants from Laconia, Greece, who met and were married in the U.S. As owners of the Mayflower Restaurant on Salisbury’s Main Street, they lived in an apartment above the restaurant with their three children, Paul, Anthony, and Zoe. Although they had no diplomas, they understood the importance of hard work and the value of education. They instilled these values in their own children along with an appreciation of the benefits of living in a democratic society. Their oldest son Paul, who would go on to be the first and longest-serving Greek American politician, grew up busing tables at the family restaurant while attending high school. The principles of fairness and opportunity instilled in him by his parents from an early age led him to a life of public service. Senator Barbara Mikulski, who served alongside Paul Sarbanes in the Senate, said they were both “retail” since she was a daughter of Polish immigrants who owned a grocery in Highlandtown, Baltimore. “We were both raised on “Good morning, can I help you?” She noted about her mentor, “Everything he did was based on civility. He insisted on intellectual rigor and respect for others.”
A graduate of Wicomico High School in Salisbury, Maryland, Sarbanes received an academic and athletic scholarship to Princeton University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1954. As a senior, he received the Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, Princeton’s highest undergraduate honor. He was then awarded a Rhodes Scholarship that sent him to Balliol College of the University of Oxford in England, where he graduated with a First-Class degree in 1957. Sarbanes then returned to the United States and attended Harvard Law School.
After graduating from Harvard in 1960, he married Christine Dunbar of Brighton, England, a graduate of St. Hugh’s College, whom he met at Oxford University and upon their graduation had moved back to the U.S. with him, teaching Latin at Dana Hall School for Girls in Wellesley, Mass., while Sen. Sarbanes attended Harvard. Upon moving back to Maryland Sen. Sarbanes, clerked for Federal Judge Morris A. Super before going into private practice with two Baltimore City law firms, while his wife Christine was a lecturer in classics at Goucher College from 1960 to 1973 and then a teacher of Latin and Classical Greek, for over twenty years at the Gilman School in Baltimore. They had three children, John Peter, Michael Anthony, and Janet Matina. All three of their children, in some way, followed the legacies of their parents, in politics or education or both. The eldest son, John P. Sarbanes, followed in his father’s footsteps, continuing his political legacy and is the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 3rd Congressional district since 2007. He graduated, cum laude, from his father’s alma mater, Princeton University, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. And after completing his thesis, “The American Intelligence Community Abroad: Potential for a Breakdown Case Study” on Greece he received his Junior Doctorate from Harvard Law School. Their son Michael combined both his parent’s passions and after attending Princeton as well, he went on to receive his Master’s Degree at both parents’ alma mater, Oxford University. He went on to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff to Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. However, his mother’s legacy in education won him over his father’s political legacy, and is currently a public-school teacher and a senior official in the Baltimore City School District. Their daughter Janet also graduated from Princeton, and like her father championed for fairness and equality, she spearheaded a successful effort to make the words of the school’s alma mater gender inclusive. She moved to the west coast and upon receiving her Ph.D. in English from UCLA, she became an author and a professor of creative writing and cultural studies at the California Institute of the Arts. In 2009 his beloved wife, Christine passed away at the age of 73. Her loss was enormous, but he sought comfort in the arms of their seven grandchildren, Stephanie, Nico, Leo, Mulugeta, Anteneh, Christina, and Lena.
As a member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore, “Senator Sarbanes attended the various services throughout the year, and most-specifically, Holy Week. It was not unusual for the Senator to attend every night and actively participate in the services. He enjoyed attending our festivals, along with the Greek Independence Day Parade in Greektown. “May his memory be eternal”, said the parish priest, Archimandrite Constantine (Dean) Moralis, Chancellor of the Metropolis of New Jersey.
The Politician with Great Integrity
His political career began in 1966 when he ran for the Maryland House of Delegates in Baltimore City. During his 4 years as a State legislator in Annapolis, he served on the Judiciary and the Ways and Means Committees. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970, where he served for three terms until 1976. It was then that Senator Sarbanes moved to the Senate with his election in 1976, followed by reelection in 1982, 1988, 1994, and 2000. In his 36-year tenure in Congress, the otherwise known as shy and low-key Senator, found himself drafting the first article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon and co-authoring landmark anti-fraud legislation that bears his name, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which changed corporate America by strengthening corporate governance and creating a federal oversight board for the accounting industry.
As the first senator of Greek American descent, he frequently supported Greece, maintaining that the United States was unduly friendly to its antagonist Turkey. Among the causes he championed was the imposition of a U.S. arms embargo on Turkey following the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Senator Sarbanes also served on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he voted against resolutions in 1991 and 2002 authorizing war against Iraq.
One of the best-known figures in the Greek American community, Senator Sarbanes was a strong advocate for the policy priorities of Greek Americans. Sarbanes was honored for his services by the governments of Greece and Cyprus, as well as by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Sarbanes held the highest lay office in the Greek Orthodox Church, “Order of St. Andrew, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate”. Christos Zacharakis, former ambassador of Greece to the United States said, “He was without a doubt a true patriot as a politician, a man of strong political and moral standing, serious and moderate with the consequent power of influence among his colleagues in Congress. He was dubbed the soul and backbone of the so-called Greek-American lobby in the American legislature for many decades.” For his efforts, Sarbanes was awarded the Order of the Phoenix by the Greek President Karolos Papoulias in 2008.
In 1993, upon receiving their most distinguished award from the Order of AHEPA, the Socrates Award, Senator Sarbanes quoted Author Edith Hamilton, saying, “Freedom was a Greek discovery. The Greeks were the first free nation in the world. Greece rose because there was in the Greeks the greatest spirit that moves in humanity… the spirit that makes men free.” To which Sarbanes added, “It is the high standards of AHEPA which makes this Socratic Award a great honor which I receive with pride and gratitude and humility. But more importantly which I accept, in tribute and in honor of that courageous immigrant generation, my parents, who came to a new land to create opportunities for their children, in belief that if they gave them freedom, they would put it to good use.”
The moving outpour of messages from around the world
President-Elect, Joe Biden tweeted, “Paul Sarbanes and I served together on the Foreign Relations Committee for 30 years, there was no one sharper, more committed, or with firmer principles. And he, too, returned to his family nearly every night. They meant the world to him. Rest in Peace, Paul.”
“Senator Paul Sarbanes’ 40 years of tireless service, as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, strengthened our nation and made a difference in the lives of countless Americans,” said Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi on Twitter.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan tweeted, “Paul Sarbanes honorably served alongside my father on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate before going on to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate. Senator Paul Sarbanes was a sincere and passionate advocate for our state and its natural resources. Today, we mourn his loss and send our deepest sympathies to his family. In memory of Sen. Sarbanes, I have ordered that the Maryland flag fly at half-staff on the day of his burial.”
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America said, “Senator Paul Sarbanes, son of Greek immigrants, Matina and Spyros, earned a brilliant education and served the people of Maryland and the USA with honor for decades. Child of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he was the pride of this nation and the Greek Diaspora. May his memory be eternal.”
Florida Congressman, Gus Bilirakis said, “Paul honorably served the people of Maryland in the Senate for 30 years. I will always cherish the friendship he shared with my family.”
Nicholas Burns, former ambassador, tweeted, “Saddened by the death of Senator Paul Sarbanes. He was a prince of a man. Highly intelligent and ethical, a leader who puts people and good government first. I’ll always be grateful for his advice and unstinting support when I was Ambassador to Greece.”
California’s Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis said, “Friend, mentor and role model for so many of us in the Greek American community. We will miss you, Senator Paul Sarbanes,”
The President of the Hellenic Republic, Katerina Sakelloropoulou offered her condolences as well, tweeting, “We bid farewell to Senator Paul Sarbanes, a bright man of US politics who kept Greece close at his heart. He remained a staunch supporter of Greek interests until the end and was always there when our nation needed him. My deepest condolences to his family.”
The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis offered his condolences and tweeted, “Senator Paul Sarbanes was a towering figure in US politics and a strong advocate of Greek issues, for which Greece will always be grateful. He will be greatly missed. My sincere condolences to his family,”
Former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, SYRIZA chief, Alexis Tsipras, tweeted his condolences saying, “Senator Paul Sarbanes leaves behind a great legacy as a true statesman and leading figure of the Greek-American community, who passionately championed Greek issues throughout his life. Heartfelt condolences to his family.”
The President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, tweeted, “I was informed with deep sorrow the passing of the good friend of Cyprus and Hellenism, the Greek American former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, who has defended with his positions and interventions the right of Cyprus. Our sincere condolences to the family of Congressman John Sarbanes.”
The Supreme President of AHEPA, George G. Horiates issued a statement saying, “Ahepans mourn profoundly the passing of former U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, a titan of the American Hellenic community who as the son of Greek immigrants, learned the values of hard work and education from his parents and became a staunch defender of his heritage. He fulfilled the American Dream by dedicating his life selflessly to public service, including becoming Maryland’s first five-term U.S. Senator and championing Hellenic ideals.”
The U.S. Embassy in Athens, tweeted, “We mourn the passing of Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. He was a remarkable leader of the Senate and a champion of the Greek American community who represented the best of the ideals that unite our peoples. We extend our condolences to his family.”
The Embassy of Greece in the U.S. issued Ambassador Papadopoulou’s statement on Senator Paul Sarbanes passing. “Senator Sarbanes was a legendary figure in American politics and an unshakable defender of Hellenic causes. We mourn his passing with utmost respect and deep gratitude. Deep condolences to his family.”
The Hellenic Foreign Ministry office issued a statement saying, “Paul Sarbanes, during his long service in the US Congress, first as a Representative and later as a Senator, served his homeland valiantly and with self-sacrifice, adding that he had “championed major initiatives for promoting the values and positions of global Hellenism.”
In closing, our Founder and Chairman Paul Kotrotsios said, “The Greek American community, America, Greece, and Cyprus deeply mourn the passing of former U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes. Senator Sarbanes was a legend in the American political landscape. He was a fighter in the nation’s capital for over 32 consecutive years and the first Greek American to be elected to the Senate. He supported Greek national issues not only because of his Greek origins but also because of his devotion to the rule of law and the Hellenistic principles and ideals that frame our democracy. The world has lost a true and noble hero. His legacy will be remembered as an honorable statesman and public servant.”
In lieu of flowers, the Sarbanes family has requested that donations be made in the name of the late Senator Paul Sarbanes, at Enoch Pratt Free Library of Maryland, the Paul S. Sarbanes ’54 Fund for Hellenism and Public Service at Princeton University, the Paul S. Sarbanes Lecture Series through Salisbury University’s Institute of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE) and to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.