Congressman John Sarbanes Pays Tribute To Senator Paul Sarbanes on the House Floor
“I want to thank the Majority Leader for yielding. I want to thank you for your friendship with my father, Paul Sarbanes, for so many years – you go back with him a long way. And he cherished that friendship, as he did the relationship with all the members of the Maryland Delegation during the time that he served.
And I want to thank my colleagues here tonight, who’ve come to help remember him and pay tribute.
On behalf of my brother, Michael, and my sister, Janet, I want to thank all the people who, over the last 48 hours, have been sending in these remembrances and tributes to my father from his time in the Senate, and before that, here in the House, where he was for six years and from time periods before that even.
I want to thank right up front and in particular his staff, who, over the course of his 40 years in public service, he understood were the ones who made him or broke him. He was a tough task master, but he chose people that had that same set of principles and values and commitment to hard work.
A lot of the tributes that have been coming in have talked about him being a workhorse, not a show horse – the idea that if you put your head down, you get the job done, you try to build consensus where you can, but you always remember that you’re here for a reason. That is, to make good, strong policy that can help people.
He lived a full life. He made a difference in the lives of others, which is all he ever wanted to do. I mean, he knew he wanted to be in politics from a very early age, but his motivation was looking at the opportunities he had – the son of Greek immigrants who came to this country with very little – and he had the opportunities for education and advancement. His motivation was to make those available to others.
He loved being with people. He had a dry sense of humor. He enjoyed banter with all who crossed his path – was intensely interested in the journey that others had taken to whatever station they held in life. And he was always asking, ‘Where are you from? What do you do? What’s next for you?’
He had an inherent integrity that was strengthened by always striving to meet the expectations of those who put their confidence in him.In politics, he was motivated, as I said, by the burning conviction that every individual has dignity and the potential to succeed if given a fair shot. And he was determined others would have those same opportunities that he had enjoyed. He understood that if you share the credit, if you don’t seek credit, you can get a lot more done. And that was how he operated.
A few years ago, I prevailed upon him to sit for about 20 hours of video-taped oral history, because I wanted to make sure we captured the essence of his life and his career. And so we have this treasure, which we’ll make available to people as we move forward. But I wanted to just, in his own words, grab a few excerpts from that, that I think convey who he is and what he cared about.
I remember I came home one time and he was sitting in the living room, on the couch, and he was revved up about something. I don’t know what the issue was that day that had gotten him, sort of, motivated. But he banged on the side of the couch and he said, ‘I’m for the little guy! I’m for the little guy!’ He might as well, in that moment, have been stating his purpose in public life. That’s what motivated him from the moment he got up in the morning until the moment he went to bed at night. So he told in this oral history – I’m just going to read a couple of these things – he talked about getting public housing, or senior citizen affordable housing, in the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. And he was very proud of the fact that you had this senior citizen housing there.
And he said, ‘Next door to it is an expensive hotel, and behind the hotel is a big condominium building with very expensive condominiums in it. Every time I go by that building, I get a sense of satisfaction out of it, particularly in the nice weather I look up and all these seniors are sitting out on their terraces, looking out over the water. I know that developers would give their eye teeth to get a hold of that piece of property – but they don’t have it. It’s part of this affordable housing initiative. So a lot of seniors who worked hard all their lives and are now retired, but don’t have a lot of money, have the benefit of this housing.’ He said, ‘I’ll always get a measure of satisfaction out of that.’
We’re in the midst, as we know, in our country of some really challenging moments addressing issues of justice. Here’s a story about how my father, in a small way, made a statement around justice. “He said, ‘We had a situation in one of the rural towns on the Eastern Shore. And when they’d deliver the mail, the postman, he’d come down the street and there’d be these big houses and he’d go up to the house and put the mail in the mailbox. And then, as he moved on down the street, the composition of the neighborhood would change, and houses would get smaller – much smaller. The complexion of the people living in the houses changed too as you went down the street, so they went from white to black. And down the street, instead of the postman going through the gate or whatever and up to the house, they were going to require those people to put a postbox at the street.
“‘So some people came to us about that, a couple of pastors or ministers, and they pointed out this situation. So I got the postal people in for a meeting in my office.’ My father said, ‘Now what’s happening here? As I understand it, up here with the big houses and the white residents, you’re going to continue to go up to the house and put the mail through the door slot, but when you get down this way, to the little houses, and the African-American residents, you’re going to require them to put a mail receptacle out at the pavement or at the curb, and you’re not gonna go up to the house anymore. What’s the rationale for this policy? Well, of course, if you lay it out like that there isn’t a rationale – at least not an acceptable one that can stand the light of day. So they dropped the project and went on delivering the mail.’ “And here’s what my father said, ‘That’s the way it ought to work. And I felt it’s not a big issue, but we got some justice done for those people.’
Small things that stand for big principles. That’s what he was about. So I’m going to close with just a couple, final thoughts here. First of all, I want to thank the Greek-American community, which was fiercely proud of my father’s achievements. He was deeply proud of where he came from. It was an inspiration to him in public service. And I want to thank so many who helped him along the way from that community.
My mother, Christine, who died ten years ago, she came into his life like a bolt of lightning. He didn’t know what hit him. He met her at Oxford, this brilliant, beautiful woman who could match him step for step in her intellect – and she knocked his socks off. And I think the great regret of his life was that he had hoped, in his retirement – you know, public life is hard, we know that – and I think all along the way he was looking forward to that time when the two of them could spend more time together. And unfortunately, she passed away within a couple of years of his retirement and they didn’t get that opportunity together. And I don’t think he ever fully recovered from that.
So, I think about his legacy, and I understand, certainly, that there’s no way his children – myself, my brother, Michael, and my sister, Janet – were ever gonna match that legacy, because it’s a pretty unmatchable one, when you look at the record. But I think we are all doing what we can to continue it, to nurture it, to sustain it going forward. And again, I want to thank you for the time to speak here and I want to thank my colleagues for all your support and kind words over the last couple of days.
And I yield back.