The late Paul S. Sarbanes, a Salisbury native who earned degrees at three prestigious universities and later served 30 years in the U.S. Senate, was honored posthumously by the renaming of the Wicomico Public Libraries Downtown branch after him.
The Wicomico County Council unanimously voted in favor of changing the name to the Paul S. Sarbanes Branch following a public hearing attended by the senator’s family members and friends.
The library’s Board of Trustees was approached by members of the community who wanted to acknowledge Sarbanes’ contributions over his years of public service, Michele Canopii, Library Board Chairwoman, said during the hearing.
“During our discussion it didn’t take long. The Sarbanes name is synonymous with integrity, respect for others, hard work, commitment,” she said. “We hope that you will feel the same way.”
Dr. Nevins Todd, a retired Salisbury heart surgeon Wicomico High School classmate of Sarbanes, called the senator “a true American” who as the son of immigrants exemplified the American dream.
Sarbanes, who died in December at age 87, was born in Salisbury to Greek parents who owned a popular restaurant on West Main Street.
After graduating from Wicomico High School where he stood out as both a scholar and an athlete, he earned a scholarship to Princeton University. He next went to Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar and finally to Harvard University where he earned a law degree in 1960
“What better place to put his name than on a library,” said Tony Sarbanes, the senator’s brother.
After law school, Sarbanes served as a clerk to a federal appellate judge, an aide to the chairman of the presidential Council of Economic Advisers and executive director of Baltimore’s Charter Revision Commission.
He entered politics in 1966 with a successful run for Maryland’s House of Delegates before reaching Congress four year later.
As a House member, Sarbanes was chosen by fellow Democrats to introduce an article of impeachment for obstruction of justice against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation.
After serving six years in the House of Representatives, he was elected to the Senate where he was best known as the leader of financial regulatory reform resulting in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, designed to make corporate executives more accountable.
Sarbanes was known as an advocate for the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s coastal bays. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore established the Paul S. Sarbanes Coastal Ecology Center in Berlin as a teaching, research and public outreach facility for the restoration, conservation and understanding of the water quality of the coastal bays.
The senator also pushed for funding for things specific to the Salisbury area, including dredging of the Wicomico River and funding for a tower at the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport.
In spite of living in Baltimore all of his adult life, Sarbanes never forgot Salisbury where much of his family remains. His brother Tony is a retired Wicomico educator and former County Council President. His nephew, Jimmy Sarbanes, is the Chief Administrative Judge for the Circuit Court. His niece, Beth Sheller, is a former Wicomico Teacher of the Year.
The senator and his wife, Christine, who died several years before her husband, are buried in Wicomico Memorial Park next to his parents, Spyros and Matina Sarbanes.
“He never really forgot he was from here,” said Tony Sarbanes.
As immigrants, the Sarbanes family personified the American dream. Spyros Sarbanes first came to Salisbury in the years after World War I and opened the Mayflower Grill on West Main Street. He later met his wife, Matina, through his cousin who played cards with Matina’s brother.
The couple raised three children -- two boys and a girl – who grew up waiting tables, washing dishes and mopping floors in the restaurant.
Tony Sarbanes hopes his brother’s story will inspire future generations who enter the Downtown library branch.
“I’m really hoping some youngster will walk in that library and ask ‘who was Paul Sarbanes?’” he said. “That might spur that youngster to say ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’”