Hellenism Mourns Passing of US Senator Paul Sarbanes

Senator Paul Sarbanes and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Credit: Archbishop Elpidophoros/Twitter

Americans from both sides of the aisle mourned the Sunday death of longtime US Senator Paul Sarbanes, the legislator from Maryland who had triumphed Greek causes during the course of his long career in Washington. He was the very first person of Greek origin to serve in the United States Senate.

His family plans a private service in the near future, following the social distancing practices put into place to fight the coronavirus, according to a statement issued by the office of his son, Representative John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, on Sunday night.

“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,” the Congressman said in the statement.

His father had been born on Feb. 3, 1933, to Greek immigrant parents, Matina (Tsigounis) and Spyros P. Sarbanes, who had emigrated from Laconia, Greece.

Senator Sarbanes was married to the great love of his life, the former Christine Dunbar, who was a teacher of Latin and Greek. In addition to his son John, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, Senator Sarbanes is survived by a daughter, Janet, and another son, Michael.

Keeping a very low profile in a city where seeing and being seen is the order of the day, the senator was known for going home to Maryland at the end of the day and spending his evenings with his tightly-knit family.

Sarbanes admitted to the Washington Post in 1994 that he was indeed a “different sort of politician. I’m not always out there blowing my own trumpet … “You can get a lot done if you let others take some, maybe all, of the credit for it.”

Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

However, his name is well-known to Americans by way of seminal legislation that, along with Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio) he was responsible for passing — the 2002 “Sarbanes-Oxley Act,” which placed much greater oversight on publicly-held businesses regarding disclosures of their financial condition to potential investors.

Prior to that time, the laws regarding this were much looser, and false and misleading corporate profit-and-loss statements had led to public funds being squandered. Sarbanes had noted that this had even led to individuals losing their jobs and their public retirement funds, on which they depended for retirement income, had been impacted.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, frequently referred to even today, has gone down as one of the most meaningful pieces of legislation regarding corporate behavior since the time of the Great Depression, when other similar legislation was passed in order to protect workers and taxpayers.

The legislation came about mainly through the many financial ramifications of the Enron scandal, which broke in the late 1990s. The Texas-based energy company had engaged in nefarious financial dealings with the accountancy firm of Arthur Andersen LLP, which had been one of the largest auditing and accounting companies in the world.

Arthur Andersen was forced into liquidation as a result of this malfeasance.

As a lifelong Greek Orthodox believer, Sarbanes’ passing was commemorated by Archbishop Elpidopohoros, who lauded him as “the pride of this nation and the Greek Diaspora. May his memory be eternal.”

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou also sent her condolences to the Sarbanes family,  saying “he remained a staunch supporter of Greek interests and was always there when our nation needed him.”

The Greek Foreign Ministry also commemorated the death of the GreekAmerican politician, saying that he had “championed major initiatives promoting the values of global Hellenism.”

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had earlier sent his condolences, praising the Maryland senator as being ” a towering figure in US politics and a strong advocate for Greek issues, for which Greece will always be grateful.”

The United States Embassy in Athens also spoke of Sarbanes, saying 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.”

The Greek-American fraternal organization AHEPA also issued a statement at the passing of the Senator, who had been an AHEPA Life Member. Supreme President George G. Horiates said “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 to championing Hellenic ideals.

“As a member of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, Sarbanes’ strong advocacy for the policy priorities of the American Hellenic community included the enactment of the arms embargo on Turkey following Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

“Our Order is forever grateful to Senator Sarbanes for passing a concurrent resolution in the 106th U.S. Congress that recognized and honored AHEPA members for their services in the U.S. Armed Forces and that acknowledged the presentation of the AHEPA Medal for Military Service to the community’s veterans (video).

“AHEPA is also honored and thankful that Senator Sarbanes commemorated the 75th anniversary of AHEPA with an entry into the Congressional Record of the 105th Congress of the late Past Supreme President James Scofield’s historically-important piece, “Forgotten History: The Klan vs. Americans of Hellenic Heritage in an Era of Hate.” The piece details AHEPA’s founding and educated a generation of Greek Americans about a little-known, yet critical, aspect of the community’s history.

“Senator Sarbanes was a constant presence at AHEPA Grand and Congressional Banquets for decades, sharing his wisdom and passion for Hellenic ideals that united all of us—education, civic duty, philanthropy. Ahepans especially shared with Brother Sarbanes an appreciation for the value of education and in meetings and gatherings he always took an interest in AHEPA’s educational and cultural programs, especially the Journey to Greece.

“Brother Sarbanes will be missed greatly. Our deepest sympathies and condolences are with the Sarbanes Family. May his memory be eternal.”

In 1993, AHEPA presented Senator Sarbanes with the Order’s most distinguished award, The Socrates Award. At the time, Senator Sarbanes was America’s highest elected official of Greek descent.