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Government & Politics

Former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes Dies at 87

Then-Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) holds up a newspaper at a hearing in 2003. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes ― a staunch defender of the Chesapeake Bay and cosponsor of far-reaching eponymous legislation that reformed federal securities laws after high-profile financial scandals near the turn of the century ― died Sunday.

His death was announced late Sunday night by his son, U.S. Rep John Sarbanes (D-Md.) — who holds the House seat his father once did.

“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 a brief public statement.

Paul Sarbanes, former U.S. Senator. Congressional photo.

Paul Spyros Sarbanes was born in Salisbury on Feb. 3, 1933 to Greek immigrant parents. He grew up busing tables at his family’s Eastern Shore restaurant while attending Wicomico County Public Schools before leaving for Princeton University, then to Oxford, and then to Harvard University School of Law.

Sarbanes was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1966, representing Baltimore City.

In 1971, he began serving in the U.S. House, winning reelection twice, before seeking the Senate seat.

As a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Sarbanes introduced the first articles of impeachment against President Nixon in 1974. Sarbanes would later, as U.S. senator, vote to acquit President Clinton of impeachment charges in 1999.

His 30-year career in the U.S. Senate stretched from 1977 to 2007, which was the longest in Maryland history until the retirement of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), who matched his record for Senate longevity. He was considered one of the most cerebral members of Congress, often eschewing the limelight and the self-promotion so often associated with those who ply the political trade.

Despite his low-key demeanor, Sarbanes never won less than 59% of the vote in any of his congressional general elections. He won a second term to the Senate in 1982 by defeating then-Prince George’s County executive Lawrence J. Hogan Sr. (R) — father of current Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) — 63.5% to 36.5%.

Before the signing ceremony of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, President George W. Bush meets with Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and other dignitaries in the Blue Room at the White House on July 30, 2002. Photo by the Executive Office of the President.

In 2002, Sarbanes cosponsored the Sarbanes-Oxley Act with Ohio Congressman Michael Oxley (R), an expansive set of reforms to American businesses in the wake of Enron and other accounting scandals.

Sarbanes was married to Christine Dunbar Sarbanes, who died in 2009. They had three children: Congressman Sarbanes; Michael A. Sarbanes, a science instructor at Green Street Academy in Baltimore City; and Janet Sarbanes, an author and professor of creative writing at the California Institute of the Arts.

The family plans a private service, following COVID-19 health guidance, in the coming days, the younger Sarbanes’ office said Sunday night.

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Former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes Dies at 87