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TRIBUNE PHOTO: PETER WONG - Scott Jorgensen of Wilsonville is the author of 'Conversations with Atiyeh,' a book about former Gov. Vic Atiyeh's life and contributions to the state.When Scott Jorgensen began reading about Oregon politicians after moving to Wilsonville more than two years ago, he never envisioned he would sit down with one of them — let alone publish a book based on their conversations.


But Jorgensen was able to capture many of the thoughts of Vic Atiyeh, the Republican who was Oregon’s 32nd governor from 1979 to 1987, before Atiyeh died on July 20 at age 91.

“What I learned from him was his approach, his bipartisanship,” and how an opponent on one issue can become an ally on another, says Jorgensen. “I could tell he was at a point where he felt good about his life and the decisions he had made.”

Atiyeh is credited with opening the way for diversifying Oregon’s economy into high technology and international trade. “His fingerprints are all over them,” Jorgensen says.

Jorgensen spoke about Atiyeh Saturday, March 14, at the Dorchester Conference, an unofficial gathering of Republicans, as a lead-in to a discussion of the party’s past, present and future.

Atiyeh’s re-election in 1982 marked the most recent time that a Republican won the governorship of Oregon.

Jorgensen’s book is titled “Conversations with Atiyeh,” transcripts of three talks between January and May 2014. It includes a speech Atiyeh gave in 2014 to the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce, and a forward by state Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn.

The cover appears to symbolize the passing of wisdom from one generation to another, depicting Atiyeh and Jorgensen’s son, Jimmy, now 7. But Jorgensen says the truth about the picture is more mundane: They were slapping hands.

Jorgensen is chief of staff to state Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, and was a reporter for the Estacada News.

Jim Moore, who teaches politics at Pacific University in Forest Grove, is in the process of writing a full biography of Atiyeh.

How the project started

After reading about other prominent Oregon politicians — Sen. Charles McNary, Sen. Mark Hatfield and Gov. Tom McCall — Jorgensen says he took an interest in Atiyeh, who then was nearing 90.

They were introduced by Patrick Sheehan, a Republican who spent one term as a state representative from Clackamas, and Jorgensen also visited a display of memorabilia that Atiyeh had donated to Pacific University in Forest Grove. After he was governor, Atiyeh was a trustee at Pacific, where he donated personal papers in 2013.

Jorgensen also visited sites significant to Atiyeh, who was born in Portland in 1923. Among them were Washington High School — just before its recent renovation — and the site of the first Atiyeh Bros. carpet store at Southwest 10th Avenue and Washington Street. (Although present-day Atiyeh Bros. has three stores, it moved from downtown Portland years ago, although there is another rug store there.)

Atiyeh’s father, George, emigrated from Syria — then part of the Ottoman Empire — to Oregon, and Atiyeh Bros. dates back to 1900.

Jorgensen’s first conversation covers Atiyeh’s family history and heritage. His second covers Atiyeh’s youth — including the Boy Scouts and football at the University of Oregon — and his dual careers in the carpet business and the Oregon Legislature.

Atiyeh played on the offensive line for Oregon during the early 1940s. “If you picture those who play offensive line for Oregon today, they are huge, so you can see how the game has evolved over the years,” Jorgensen says.

The Ducks lost the 1941 Civil War game, 12-7, to the Oregon State Beavers, who then defeated Duke in the 1942 Rose Bowl — which was played in Durham, N.C., because the U.S. government barred large-scale gatherings on the West Coast after Japan’s attack on the Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii.

An old injury kept Atiyeh from overseas military service during World War II. He did get an offer to play professionally for the Green Bay Packers, but his father died and he took over the family business in 1944.

“It was never a decision for him,” Jorgensen says. “He felt he had to do right by his family, and it never occurred to him to do otherwise. There was no way he could play football under those circumstances.”

Atiyeh did not return to his family business after he left the governorship in 1987. He became a trade consultant and maintained an office in downtown Portland until he turned 90 in 2013.

Years in politics

Years after he took over the business, Atiyeh ran successfully for the Oregon House, and after six years there, for the Oregon Senate. In his 20 years in the Legislature, Atiyeh was always in the minority party, although from 1965 to 1973, Republicans and a few Democrats were the ruling coalition in the Oregon Senate.

Jorgensen says Atiyeh was proudest of the one two-year cycle in the 1970s when, as Senate Republican leader, he had just six members that were dubbed the “phone-booth caucus.” But Atiyeh told Jorgensen that they still achieved a lot of what they sought.

“A lot of them went on to do great things afterward, and he was proud to be part of that caucus, so it was indicative of their character and philosophy,” Jorgensen says. “It was a real lesson for me to learn as a present-day Senate staffer.”

In addition to Atiyeh, others in that caucus were Wallace Carson, who became Oregon chief justice; Ken Jernstedt, who became mayor of his hometown of Hood River; Tony Meeker, who became state treasurer, and Bob Smith, who became a U.S. representative.

Because Atiyeh had grown up in a diverse neighborhood, Jorgensen says, Atiyeh — the nation’s first Arab-American governor — had no problem establishing state commissions for black and Hispanic affairs during his governorship. Atiyeh also signed a law aimed at hate crimes.

The third interview, conducted after the May 2014 primary, covered Atiyeh’s own campaigns — he lost a bid for governor in 1974, then won in 1978 and 1982 — and Atiyeh’s relationships with Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, all Republicans.

Jorgensen says he and Atiyeh tried to arrange one more interview last summer, but they never connected. Atiyeh died of kidney failure on the night of July 20.

Atiyeh’s final public appearance was a month earlier at a gathering of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Also present was state Sen. Jackie Winters of Salem, who was state ombudsman during Atiyeh’s first two years as governor; their photo is included in the book.

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Clarifies nature of injury to Vic Atiyeh that kept him out of overseas military service during World War II; it was not a football injury.

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