Writings and observations

jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
Conversations with Atiyeh

Last January, former Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh was the keynote speaker at an event put on by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce at Happy Valley City Hall. Attendees included elected officials such as Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Canby) and Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River).

Gov. Atiyeh was introduced by Verne Duncan, who has the unique distinction of having served in both the Idaho and Oregon legislatures. Duncan had worked as Oregon Superintendent of Schools during the Atiyeh administration.

The theme of Governor Atiyeh’s speech was “How to Use Statesmanship and Compromise.”

Atiyeh described the circumstances surrounding his initial decision to run for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives.

Running for the Legislature

In his remarks, Governor Atiyeh provided much useful advice for the elected officials and would-be, potential and future officeholders present at the event.

Vic’s Words of Wisdom

Governor Atiyeh shared many of the principles that contributed to his success in the nearly three decades of public service that he gave to Oregon and its citizens.

The Virtues of Common Sense

The full transcripts of his remarks that day make up an entire chapter in my new book, Conversations with Atiyeh. It can be ordered by clicking here.

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jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
Conversations with Atiyeh

Of the three interviews I did with former Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh prior to his passing last July, my favorite was the one from late March.

That hour-long talk makes up the fourth chapter of my recently released new book, Conversations with Atiyeh, and is called “Boy Scouts, Football and the Legislature.”

The first part of our conversation was about the governor’s lifelong involvement with the Boy Scouts organization. He joined as a young boy, but continued his involvement well into adulthood and beyond.
Vic beamed with pride as he talked about his son Tom achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.

Governor Atiyeh talks about the Boy Scouts

We also discussed his football career. Vic played at Washington High and the University of Oregon through good years, bad years, and everything in between.

Governor Atiyeh talks about football

Our final topic was his 20-year legislative career. I asked him about his favorite memory from that time. He replied that it was the days of the famed “Phone Booth” caucus, when there were so few Senate Republicans that they could all literally fit in a phone booth.

One thing was clear to me in our talks—Governor Atiyeh felt good about his life and career.

Governor Atiyeh talks about his legacy

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jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
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.

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jorgensen W. SCOTT
JORGENSEN

 
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.

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