A tribute to 'a strong woman'

The Baltimore Sun

Christine Sarbanes was recalled at her standing-room-only memorial service Friday as a "strong woman of incisive intellect" who "had the capacity to find the good in everyone." Her children said she routinely addressed them with, "Hello, lovely."

Vice President Joe Biden, one of numerous elected national and state leaders who gathered at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, spoke of his days in the Senate with former Sen. Paul Sarbanes. Christine Sarbanes, 73, died March 22.

The vice president, who spoke for 10 minutes, recalled the Sarbanes' overseas trips together. "I can never remember their not being together, holding hands," he said.

Biden said he initially knew Paul Sarbanes as a "disciplined person where everything fit with great precision. We called him 'the ice man.' Then I met Christine. She was his fire."

The vice president said that "never before had fire and ice been so powerful - the inner fire lit by the dignity of a strong woman. She lived the life of dignity. She had grace."

Mrs. Sarbanes' memorial service filled the Pratt's ground floor for nearly 90 minutes. Sens. John Kerry and Christopher Dodd arrived and stood throughout the tribute, refusing seats. Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Sheila Dixon also attended.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that on Senate trips, people sought a place at a breakfast table with Christine Sarbanes. "She was a slicer and a dicer. You defended your position with her," she said. "You were going to learn, you were going to laugh or you were going to be challenged."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski spoke of the Sarbanes' campaign presence in the 1960s. "For every door Paul knocked on in a campaign, Christine was right there, too."

Her son, Rep. John Sarbanes, remembered his mother's "poise and grace" and "sophistication."

"It was her English accent that reeled in my Dad," he said. "She did not suffer fools. She was demanding and had high expectations."

He said she would stick a fork in her children's backs at the dinner table, to remind them to sit up straight. "Her grace came from within a beautiful soul," he said.

Another son, Michael Sarbanes, spoke of his mother's experience in England during World War II. A librarian in Brighton encouraged her reading habits, and school teachers found scholarships for her. Her academic career led to Oxford University, where she met a young Paul Sarbanes. Mrs. Sarbanes was a lifelong advocate for libraries and sat on the Pratt's board of directors for decades.

Her daughter, Janet Sarbanes, said: "I remember your love of Shakespeare. I remember your reckless consumption of detective novels, and how you considered it a vice. I remember your firm, strong hands."

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