Conversations with Atiyeh
Friends, family, well-wishers, elected officials and Oregonians from all walks of life descended upon the state capitol in Salem yesterday morning for the memorial service of former Governor Vic Atiyeh.
The service was held on the floor of the House of Representatives, which began to fill up an hour before the ceremony. Smiles and friendly chatter flowed freely, with several stories about the former governor shared among those who knew him.
Speakers included Gerry Thompson, who served as chief of staff in the Atiyeh administration.
Thompson said that the administration faced 12 percent unemployment, a prime interest rate of 20 percent, 14 percent inflation and an “abysmal” national economy.
“Believe me, it was not an easy time,” Thompson said.
As Thompson told an anecdote about a trip Atiyeh took to Southern California to honor former President Gerald Ford, one could almost picture the two leaders reunited in the afterlife playing another round of golf together.
Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem) affectionately recalled the twinkle in the governor’s eye. She described how a cross-burning incident in suburban Milwaukie prompted Atiyeh to enact laws making racial and religious harassment a felony in Oregon.
“The governor had a unique understanding of diversity,” Winters said.
Another former governor, Barbara Roberts, described the work she did with the governor while she served as House Majority Leader. Those times involved multiple special legislative sessions and budget cuts, yet the two set aside their partisan differences and overcame those challenges.
“That’s the job of leaders, and Vic lead,” Roberts said. “He loved Oregon, and was so proud to be a native Oregonian.”
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) praised the way Atiyeh always took the high road.
“He never thought of someone else as an enemy,” Walden said. “Vic was genuine, and he was honest.”
Vic’s daughter, Suzanne, described the former governor as a patient and kind father whose true talent was love. She said he lead a lifetime of doing the right thing and taught his children that responsibility was an honor.
A flower bouquet sent from officials in China was on display outside of the House chamber during the ceremony. It was yet another reminder of the bridges that Governor Vic Atiyeh built over international waters for the good of all Oregonians.
W. Scott Jorgensen has worked as an award-winning reporter for various publications throughout Oregon, and was a news director and talk show host for the Grants Pass Broadcasting Corporation. He has also been an aide in the Oregon House of Representatives and a field organizer for a successful statewide ballot measure campaign.