He is not a close relative. But it is difficult to accept the news that Paul Sarbanes has died. He was 87 years old. You knew it was going to happen someday. But you do not want to accept it.
Paul was not just another Greek-American. He was not just another politician.
He was family. Part of the wider Hellenic family.
His kindness. His smile. He warmed our hearts.
Paul understood us. He was one of us. He understood Greece and Cyprus. And Turkey.
As a child, he helped his father at his restaurant in Baltimore, MD. At night, his father, no matter how tired he felt, was always reading about some ancient Greek. The Greek Diaspora was in Paul’s home. Greece was in his home.
He was an exemplary Greek-American – the child of immigrants who achieved the American dream in its most noble form: He was a brilliant student. He became a lawyer after graduating from Harvard.
He could have made a lot of money, but he was drawn to politics. That is, he was disposed to making a contribution to society.
For 30 years, he served as a U.S. Senator. He did not seek publicity – his work focused on substance. He was an honest, distinguished public servant.
He honored his parents and his Hellenic origins. He made us all proud.
He was our pride.
He was also our pillar of support.
He served in challenging times. The Greek junta was in power when he was first elected to Congress, and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus soon followed, which fueled anti-Americanism in Greece. Then there were successive Greek-Turkish crises.
He was not alone. He served on Capitol Hill with John Brademas. And Benjamin Rosenthal. And Paul Tsongas. And Gus Bilirakis, and others. And he was a friend of Governor Mike Dukakis.
But he stood out with his calm intelligence. His moral stature. His belief in the mutuality of Greek-American interests.
The mere fact that he was there – his mere presence – then, and until now, assured us. We felt secure. He inspired us.
No politician from Greece and Cyprus visited the United States without being received by him, without hearing his advice, without the Senator mediating with the relevant U.S. government officials.
And there was no significant Community event that he did not attend.
He was a central figure at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of The National Herald at the majestic New York Public Library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
In his speech, he characterized TNH as the "school of the Greek Diaspora." Nothing more impressive could have been said about the newspaper's contributions to the Community.
Last year, on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, I visited him in Baltimore, as Deputy Foreign Minister with Responsibility for Hellenes Abroad, together with my close associate Manos Koumbarakis.
With us was Peter Maroudas, the Senator’s close associate on Capitol Hill and childhood friend. Peter is another great Greek-American – and also a good friend of mine.
We visited him to thank him, to give him two letters of gratitude from the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
He read them with singular attention and satisfaction.
For me, it was an emotional experience to see him again.
But also the fulfillment of a debt, as a Greek-American and as a representative of the government.
It was one of my most significant acts as Deputy Minister and it was in the context of my firm belief that Greece should honor those who honor it.
I'm glad we visited him.
It was the last time I saw him.
Senator Paul Sarbanes will be greatly missed. But he will not be forgotten. His example will enlighten and inspire generations of Greek-Americans.
May his memory live forever!