Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes dies at 87

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Former Senator Paul S. Sarbanes
Former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (Unknown author / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons) ​

12/14/20 10:57 a.m. Update: This article has been updated with additional information. 

Former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the first U.S. senator in Maryland’s history to win a fifth term to office, died Dec. 6 at 87, according to his son, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-District 3), whose wife is Jewish and who belongs to Bolton Street Synagogue.


During his tenure, Paul Sarbanes acquired a reputation for being reluctant to trumpet his own achievements to the media.

While Sarbanes was not Jewish himself, his passing was soon followed by expressions of grief from Baltimore’s Jewish community.

The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore posted a message on Facebook reading, “[t]oday, we grieve the death of former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes. … May his memory be for a blessing.”

The Baltimore Jewish Council also released a statement on social media. “Throughout his career in the Maryland House of Delegates, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Senator Sarbanes fought for vulnerable communities and the needs, priorities and values of our State,” BJC’s statement said.

BJC’s Executive Director Howard Libit said in an email that Sarbanes’ “humility and his commitment to looking out for vulnerable communities made him an example for all elected officials. We were fortunate to have him as a partner and advocate of the Jewish community’s needs for so many years in the U.S. Senate.”

State Del. Dalya Attar (D-District 41) called Sarbanes “a living embodiment of a devoted and successful public servant.  He always put his constituents first and was extremely successful in passing many important and life-changing pieces of legislation.”

State Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) stated that a common sentiment about Sarbanes was that “getting bills passed is what mattered to him, not getting publicity.” Rosenberg added that Sarbanes’ creedo was “that you can get a lot of things done if you share the credit.”

One of Sarbanes’ achievements, Rosenberg said, was convincing his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee to adopt the first article of impeachment against then-President Richard Nixon. It was a story that Sarbanes shared when visiting Rosenberg’s legislation class at the University of Baltimore’s law school.

On Twitter, Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said Sarbanes “was a political giant and left a lasting legacy. May his memory be for a blessing.”

Baltimore County Councilman Israel “Izzy” Patoka tweeted that Sarbanes “was a fighter for all of us, his district and the state. I join Marylanders from every corner of the state in sending heartfelt condolences to Sen. Sarbanes’ family and friends.”

According to The Baltimore Sun, Sarbanes was a son of Greek immigrants and grew up near the restaurant of his parents, Spyros and Matina. He was awarded a scholarship to Princeton University, later became a Rhodes scholar and in 1960 graduated from Harvard Law School. He first entered politics after his successful campaign for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. He later won election to the House of Representatives and then the Senate.

Sarbanes was predeceased by his wife, Christine. He is survived by brother Anthony Sarbanes, sister Zoe Pappas, sons Michael and Rep. John Sarbanes, daughter Janet Sarbanes and several grandchildren.

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