Christine Sarbanes

Wife of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes was an educator who 'believed in the dignity of every individual'

March 24, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Christine D. Sarbanes, a retired educator, active board member and wife of former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, died Sunday of cancer at her Guilford home. She was 73.

"Her life and legacy as a teacher and community servant touched thousands of Marylanders and reminds us all that a life lived for others is the greatest of gifts," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement Monday. "She believed in the dignity of every individual, and that every person has potential that we, as a community, can unlock through literacy and access to higher learning."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said in a statement that Mrs. Sarbanes' death is a "tremendous loss to all those who knew her" and that she had "enormous grace and presence."

He added: "She was extremely likable" and "had an ability to relate to people and make them feel good."

Christine Dunbar was born in London and raised in Brighton, England, the daughter of an electrician and a waitress. After winning a scholarship, she attended Brighton and Hove High School for Girls.

She later earned a bachelor's degree in Literae Humaniores from St. Hugh's College, Oxford University, in 1958, and a master's degree, also from Oxford, in 1974.

It was political activism that brought her and her future husband together, when both were attending Oxford in the late 1950s. He was a Rhodes scholar.

"She came to a meeting of the American Association I headed. I forget what was on the agenda. All I remember of that meeting was that was where I met Christine," Mr. Sarbanes told The Sun in a 1987 interview. "She was involved in trying to get women into the [all-male] Oxford Union, a debating society. I became very interested in that and invited her to tea to talk about it."

Mrs. Sarbanes said in the interview, "People thought it was strange that an American would be so interested in this."

After graduation, she began teaching Latin at Dana Hall School for Girls in Wellesley, Mass.

After marrying in 1960, Mrs. Sarbanes became a lecturer in classics at Goucher College.

In 1974, she left Goucher. After a four-year break, she returned to teaching in 1978, joining the Gilman School faculty, where she continued teaching Latin, Greek and French until retiring in 2000.

Lillian Burgunder, who taught Spanish and art history at Gilman, was a longtime colleague and friend.

"She was a wonderful teacher, and her knowledge of Latin, Greek and ancient civilization was remarkable. She was very intelligent and enthusiastic, and she brought that into the classroom," Mrs. Burgunder said.

"She was dedicated to making her kids understand, and it was common to see a child in her office she was helping because she wanted to make sure they understood the material," she said.

Nick Schloeder, a former Gilman teacher and coach, who had been an adviser to Mr. Sarbanes for 40 years, was also a colleague of Mrs. Sarbanes.

"I have a rather loud voice, and Christine had the classroom next to mine. I would hear a tap on the door, and Christine would say, 'Mr. Schloeder, I'm teaching a Latin class, and you're going to have to lower your voice or get some new stories,' " he said, laughing.

"There was a great intellectual compatibility between Christine and Paul. Both were very smart, well-educated, and both loved politics," he said.

"She was not just a candidate's wife but a member of the inner circle. She was very much a part of Paul's inner circle," Mr. Schloeder said. "She was good politically and not afraid to express herself. She had a great political mind and really understood politics."

Mr. Schloeder recalled that the two were inseparable and determined campaigners.

"When Paul ran for the House of Delegates in 1966, and Congress four years later, the two worked the bus stops and would knock on 500 doors in an afternoon," he said. "And they would do that day after day. I can't imagine them any other way than as a couple."

In addition to having a full-time job as a teacher, raising her three children, and assisting her husband in his political life, Mrs. Sarbanes found time to be an active board member.

As child growing up in England during World War II, Mrs. Sarbanes developed a lifelong love of books, libraries and librarians.

"There weren't a lot of books in her home, and I think she read every book in the library in Brighton," said her son Michael A. Sarbanes of Baltimore.

For the past decade, Mrs. Sarbanes had been a member of the board of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"I do not know of anyone who worked as hard for the libraries of our city. Her commitment and dedication was important to the recent opening of the first two new libraries in Baltimore in over 30 years," Mayor Sheila Dixon said in a statement Monday.

"To Christine, libraries were a sanctuary and a place of enlightenment and a place that could change people's lives," said Dr. Carla D. Hayden, executive director of the Pratt.

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