Conversations with Atiyeh
In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s very easy to forget that we are living tomorrow’s history. It’s also easy to forget that there are historical figures among us, whose wisdom awaits those who seek it.
I came to this realization last year. One of Oregon’s great governors, Vic Atiyeh, had left office in 1987. His steady style helped steer the state through a time of tremendous challenges. The example that he set for subsequent generations was already very obvious. The lessons he could pass on from all of his years of acquired wisdom would be priceless.
At first, I had to consider the almost mythical figure that Vic Atiyeh had become in Oregon politics, the way that his work and legacy still surround every man, woman and child in the state, whether they know it or not.
It became clear to me that I might have the opportunity to interview and learn from the former governor. Mutual friends were able to put me in touch with him, and we conducted a series of long-long interviews on a variety of subjects.
The governor was a personable man, and I enjoyed our talks very much. I asked him about formative experiences, like his time in the Boy Scouts and playing offensive line for the University of Oregon football team. His anecdotes and personal stories are treasures in and of themselves, and paint a clear picture of the great man that Vic Atiyeh was.
He shared with me many aspects of his governing philosophy, along with many important life lessons. I learned much more from our talks than I even initially expected. My biggest takeaway from the whole project was that the governor felt good about the decisions he made in his life and as a public official, and about the legacy that he would ultimately leave.
Vic Atiyeh passed away on July 20. Our last conversation had been at the beginning of the month, and it was an attempt to schedule one last interview with him.
I never got that last interview, but I realized fairly quickly that I might not even need it. The last question I would have asked him was going to be the way he felt about his legacy. But based on our talks, I felt like I already knew.
The transcripts of our talks, some of the governor’s last recorded interviews, form the bulk of my upcoming book “Conversations with Atiyeh.” It is not the traditional historical biography. Rather, it’s about the ways in which wisdom is passed down from one generation to another. It’s a unique look at the life and times of one of Oregon’s great governors, in his own words. It’s the story of a young man getting to know someone he would otherwise only read about in books.
This is my contribution to the history of a state that I have grown to love very much. My hope is that it will also serve as a tribute to Vic Atiyeh. He was the kind of leader who sought to bring out the best in everyone around him, and we would all do well to learn from his example.