Former Secret Service agent Nicholas J. Zarvos dies at age 79

04/11/2014 8:43 PM

04/11/2014 10:31 PM

A former Secret Service agent who grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and who was shot in 1972 while guarding a presidential candidate has died.

Nicholas J. Zarvos, 79, died Wednesday, his widow, Rose, confirmed Friday. He had been diagnosed with leukemia.

“That came as such a shock to all of us, because he had always been such a strong and able-bodied person,” said Rose Zarvos of Katy, Texas, near Houston.

Her husband had been among several Secret Service agents assigned to candidate George Wallace during a May 1972 campaign appearance in Laurel, Md., when a gunman fired several shots.

One bullet lodged in Nicholas Zarvos’ jaw. He underwent more than seven hours of surgery but returned to his job later that summer.

The shooting paralyzed Wallace’s legs.

President Richard Nixon, impressed by Zarvos’ valor, promised him “any assignment” he wanted, according to one news story at the time.

Stephen Zarvos, a son, was skeptical that his father would have responded to such an offer.

“While it is possible that Nixon said something like that, I doubt whether my dad would have taken a new assignment,” he said.

Another 1972 story indicated Zarvos soon returned to his regular position.

However, because the bullet damaged one of his vocal cords, Zarvos was instructed not to speak for two months. When Zarvos visited Wallace in the hospital later that year, he used a drawing slate to communicate.

Zarvos grew up in Kansas City, Kan., where he attended Wyandotte High School. He served two years in the Army before entering the University of Denver, where he applied for the Secret Service.

One of his first assignments was the Truman Home in Independence before he was transferred to the agency’s Atlanta bureau.

George Anthan, a retired Washington journalist who attended Wyandotte High with Zarvos in the early 1950s, often saw his old high school friend while Zarvos was guarding presidents or candidates.

“He was all business, and his business was keeping anybody from killing the president of the United States,” said Anthan.

Zarvos retired in the 1980s. By 1997, he was living in Sarasota, Fla., working occasionally as a consultant. A local newspaper story from that year described how Zarvos still spoke with a rasp because of the shooting 25 years before.

“I’m sure he had some difficulties, but he wasn’t the kind of person who talked about it,” said Stephen Zarvos.

In 2002, Nicholas Zarvos, along with three other Secret Service agents who were guarding Wallace on May 15, 1972, received the Director’s Award of Valor, the agency’s highest honor.

Wallace died in 1998. The gunman, Arthur Bremer, was released from prison in 2007.

Goldie Sakoulas, a second cousin of Zarvos who lives in Overland Park, always admired him.

“It was a hard job that he had, a very private one, but he was a wonderful man and a Kansas Ciy, Kan., hero,” she said.

No memorial service is planned.

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