Victor George Atiyeh (1923-) served as Oregon’s 32nd governor from 1979-1987.
Atiyeh was born Alfred George Atiyeh February 20, 1923 in Portland, OR, to two Syrian immigrants, George and Linda Asly Atiyeh. His parents never used the name Alfred, and he was christened Victor George Atiyeh. He has two older brothers, twins Edward and Richard. After graduating from Portland’s Washington High School, where he was a standout football player and president of his senior class, Atiyeh attended the University of Oregon as a pre-law major from 1941-1943. A member of the Epsilon Omicron chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, he continued to be involved with the fraternity throughout his life. He was a guard on the University of Oregon football team, and was scouted by several NFL teams and offered a position with the Green Bay Packers. After his father’s 1943 death, however, with both of his brothers away at war, Atiyeh left school to assume the presidency of Atiyeh Bros. Carpets, the family business that his father and uncle founded in 1900. He held that position until 1979, when he resigned after winning the governorship. In 1944 he married Dolores Hewett, with whom he attended high school and college. They have two children, Tom and Suzanne.
Atiyeh served three terms in the Oregon House of Representatives (1959-1964). He then served four terms in the Oregon State Senate (1965-1978), serving as Minority Leader from 1971-1978. With almost 20 years in the legislature, Atiyeh had a longer state legislative career than any other Oregon governor.
He first ran for governor in 1974, with the slogan "Oregon's Next Great Governor," but was defeated in the general election by Democrat Robert (Bob) Straub in Atiyeh’s only electoral defeat. In 1978 Atiyeh, running with the slogan “It’s Time for Atiyeh,” defeated incumbent Straub to become the first Arab-American governor in the United States. As governor, Atiyeh’s agenda included tax reform, increasing government efficiency, workers’ compensation, economic diversification, international economic development initiatives, responsible land-use, environmental conservation, and the establishment of Oregon Food Share, the nation’s first statewide food bank. Faced with an economic downturn and a state budget deficit, Atiyeh's cost-cutting measures included cutting his own salary--three times. As governor, Atiyeh appointed Oregon’s first female chief of staff, Geraldine (Gerry) Thompson, as well as Oregon’s first female Supreme Court justice, Betty Roberts.
Active in the Republican party, Atiyeh chaired the Republican Governors’ Association as well as the Western Governors’ Association. He served as a National Republican Convention delegate in 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1984.
After leaving office in 1987, Atiyeh founded Victor Atiyeh & Company, an international consulting and trade firm of which he was the president. On retainer for firms such as Fujitsu America and Seiko Epson, he continued to travel widely and contribute to Oregon’s economic development activities and to national foreign policy concerns under the George H.W. Bush administration. He served as president of the Japan-America Society of Oregon and as an Executive Committee member of the American Task Force for Lebanon.
A Boy Scout leader since the age of 21, Atiyeh served in several positions in that organization, including Council President. Atiyeh served on the boards of Equitable Savings & Loan, Cedars Bank, Key Knife, Greenbrier Companies, Inc., the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Museum, the National Association of Arab-Americans, and the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation, among other organizations. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Atiyeh International, Ltd., his son Tom’s carpet company. Atiyeh is a former Pacific University trustee and served on the University of Oregon’s President’s Committee. An avid collector of guns, historical documents, and materials regarding the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Atiyeh has been a member of the Oregon Historical Society and the Washington County Historical Society. He was appointed by President Reagan to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in 1984. A lifetime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), he helped found the NRA-affiliated Oregon Arms Collectors group. Atiyeh continues to be active in civic and community organizations.