Former Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh is giving his personal papers and memorabilia to Pacific University, which plans to display them all digitally
"This is an emotional night for you and for me," said Atiyeh, who turned 90 this year, at a recent ceremony to mark the gift. "This is equal to any highlight I have ever received in my entire life."
Born in Portland as one of three sons of an immigrant from Syria, Atiyeh took over his family's carpet business, then was elected to the Oregon House and the Oregon Senate, where he was Republican leader eight years. He was elected governor in 1978 on his second try and was re-elected in 1982.
The ceremony coincided with the opening of an exhibition of some of the papers and memorabilia. Among them are the Bible he used for his two oaths as governor — with his notes on the passages cited — items from his 1984 trip to his ancestral homeland of Syria, and photos of Atiyeh with President Ronald Reagan.
"This is the tip of the iceberg, but it gives you a feeling for the different things in the collection," said Lesley Hallick, Pacific's president.
She said the university benefits from the collection, not the other way around.
"We are interested in how this collection will benefit students and researchers looking at that period of history and the legacy of Governor Atiyeh and his statesmanship," she said. "We want to turn it into something that is extremely easy to access."
Like most governors, Atiyeh has many of his official papers in the State Archives in Salem.
A law passed in 1991, four years after Atiyeh left office, requires the official papers of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer to remain with the state, although departing officials can restrict access.
Atiyeh has placed no restrictions on access to his personal collection, which he began transferring from his home in Beaverton to Pacific University a couple of years ago.
The process sped up this year, after Atiyeh closed the downtown Portland office he maintained as an international trade consultant since leaving his governorship.
"Every time we go to his home, he has things ready for us," said Eva Guggemos, the Pacific University archivist who visits every month. "He'll give us everything from a couple of objects to 10 boxes. They always come with stories, so we have a lot of context about what they mean. Every time we visit, he has more treasures."
So far Atiyeh has given 50 boxes of materials.
The next step is for Pacific University to make available online a description and photo of virtually every item in Atiyeh's collection. It may be the first such collection by an Oregon governor to be so accessible.
Pacific University is planning to raise money so that the digital work can be done. Major donations have already been made by The Greenbrier Companies of Lake Oswego, the Samuel S. Johnson Foundation of Redmond, and Paul and Nancy Phillips.
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Vic Atiyeh collection: www.pacificu.edu/atiyeh