US Senator Paul Sarbanes, who passed away at the age of 87 on December 6, is a major reason we Hellenes are held in such high regard in the United States. The powerfully positive impression he made for decades on hundreds of influential American policymakers and opinion leaders is unsurpassed.
In 1971, before Paul arrived in Washington, DC, Greeks were held in a different regard. For instance, the protective covenants against Greeks buying into neighborhoods prohibited millionaire Bill Calomiris from buying a house in Washington’s Spring Valley. Sarbanes arrived in the US House of Representatives with a bang. The Judiciary Committee chose him, then barely out of his 30s, from among their 38 seasoned committee members to draft the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon.
The genius that propelled him from a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore through Princeton University, a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University and through Harvard Law School magna cum laude, lifted him to immediate prominence in the US Congress. Greeks also gained notice as Paul and his brother-like colleague and “patrioiti,” Congressman John Brademas, made up only 0.3% of the US Congress but 66% of its Rhodes Scholars.
Sarbanes became the first Greek-American US senator, later followed by Senator Paul Tsongas (of Massachusetts) and Senator Olympia Snowe (of Maine). The Sarbanes practice of doing the right thing and treating others with respect – his philotimo – greatly impressed thousands who followed him closely during his nearly four-decade congressional career. The esteem for Paul felt by these members of the House, senators and national reporters accrued to the benefit of all Hellenes. His always studied and objective opinion on issues facing America was valued by Republicans and Democrats. He was the “gold standard” of what Americans desire in their Washington politicians.
Sarbanes was also well known for his major legislative victories. Without Congressmen Sarbanes and Brademas’ extraordinary credibility, their Turkish arms embargo legislation following Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus would never have passed the House of Representatives. That bill’s enactment was the only time in modern history the Congress overruled the White House on a major foreign policy issue. Then in the Senate, as a high-ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he was the go-to expert on all matters relating to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Greece and Cyprus. Senior State Department employees, all of whom have to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, knew about Sarbanes’ hyper-interest in Hellenic and Orthodox issues. They knew that mistreatment of these issues could jeopardize Senate approval for their next high-level State Department job. Sarbanes dramatically improved US policy toward these issues. His son Congressman John Sarbanes carries on Paul’s remarkable and impactful efforts.
Sarbanes is probably best known to the general public for the major legislative reform in corporate executive responsibility for financial wrongdoing. His legislation – known as the “Corporate and Auditing Accountability, Responsibility, and Transparency Act,” nicknamed the “Sarbanes-Oxley Act” – greatly reduced repeats of Enron’s debacle that left thousands unemployed, devastated retirement plans and wiped out stockholders’ assets.
Amid his life as a world-changing policymaker he was also a down-to-earth Hellene. He had a great sense of humor and could tell a wonderful story. He could also be found at the heart of the championship round of our family’s egg-cracking competition at our annual Easter lamb roast. He was a true friend who appeared at your family weddings and, more importantly, at your loved ones’ funerals.
From his commanding brilliance that helped shape much of our world, to his tenderness and humor that touched us all, he is unsurpassed. His like may never pass this way again.
Andy Manatos, CEO of Manatos & Manatos, and Mike Manatos, president of Manatos & Manatos, spent their careers working closely with Senator Sarbanes in Washington, DC in the promotion of Hellenism and Orthodox Christianity.