Vic Atiyeh dealt with tribes, Asian trade, Rajneeshees, Reagan

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - This eagle-feather headdress was given to Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh by the Warm Springs Museum in honor of his outreach and commitment to Oregons tribes.Vic Atiyeh doesn’t want to be remembered simply for being Oregon’s last Republican governor.

Now, thanks to his newly opened personal archives at Pacific University, fairness and bipartisanship will more likely come to mind for people who visit the collection.

In what sometimes seemed like a family reunion, more than 150 people gathered last Thursday at Pacific’s library in Forest Grove to honor the man who governed Oregon from 1979 to 1987 and to celebrate the opening of The Victor Atiyeh Collection.

In addition to Atiyeh family members, the crowd included his former press secretary Denny Miles; former secretary of state Norma Paulus; U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield’s widow, Antoinette Hatfield; former state Rep. Paul Phillips (Atiyeh’s first intern); Pacific University President Lesley Hallick; and Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society.

Speakers praised Atiyeh — who started public service in 1958 as a state representative from Washington County — as pragmatic, direct, modest and wary of “yes men.” They also hailed him as a Republican who managed to compromise with a Democratically controlled legislature at a time of severe economic recession in both Oregon and America.

Atiyeh, 90, seemed slightly overwhelmed with all the fuss and opened his remarks by paying tribute to Dolores, his wife of many years.

Atiyeh said he chose Pacific to house his collection not just because he represented this region in the legislature, but also due to his longstanding position on the school’s Board of Trustees, as well as his receipt of a University Service Award (1979) and an honorary doctorate (1996) from Pacific.

Curator Eva Guggemos called the collection the library’s “crown jewel.” She and others visited Atiyeh monthly for more than two years to collect items and hear him personally explain the history and significance behind them.

The exhibit reflects not only Atiyeh’s public service, but state and national history as well, such as his collection of (mostly Republican) campaign buttons, including one for Eisenhower and another reading “Nixon’s the one.”

Nearby is a pack of Jelly Belly candies he received during a visit with Ronald Reagan, who was known for favoring that treat.

An ornate ceremonial Japanese helmet and wooden presentation box commemorates the time Atiyeh received Japan’s highest honor for non-Japanese citizens. Dubbed “Trader Vic” by some, Atiyeh traveled to Japan, China, and Taiwan to explore and build trade between Oregon and the emerging economies.

Among his papers is an order (never signed) declaring martial law in two counties during the crisis with the Rajneesh cult that took over a central Oregon county.

Perhaps the most visually impressive display cases hold an eagle feather headdress, presented to Atiyeh by the Warm Springs Museum. Near it is a handsome scarlet embroidered jacket, given to the governor by two members of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. Both gifts attest to Atiyeh’s appreciation of the historic role of Oregon’s Native Americans, some of whom attended the ceremony.

Atiyeh reached out to Oregon tribes and supported restoration of their legal status. He made it clear that he believed Native Americans had been treated badly.

Atiyeh’s commitment to fairness also sparked him to sponsor one of the earliest anti-hate crimes bills in the country in 1981, after a cross-burning incident in Portland.

“I don’t like bullies,” the state’s first Arab-American governor told the press at the time. An exhibit photo shows him signing the law, which targeted crimes motivated by race, color, religion or national origin.

Atiyeh, whose parents were from Syria and Lebanon, championed diversity throughout his service, as heralded in his memorable inaugural address, a portion of which appears on the library wall:

“... I have heard the voices of different ages, different races, different stations and different convictions. But the more I listen, the more the voices blend into one, a true common voice of the people of Oregon, expressing common concerns.”

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