Remembering one of last 'Old Coots'
Praise and respect for former Gov. Vic Atiyeh ran high this week. One comment that caught my eye was written by retired Willamette University professor Bruce Gates, who recalled some special times later in life with Atiyeh and others of his era.
“Vic Atiyeh was an Old Coot,” wrote Gates, “as was Mark Hatfield and many pillars of the old Oregon GOP establishment— Hollis Dole, Leo Margosian, Warne Nunn, Phil Bladine, Sam Mallicoat, Jack Lansing, Al Loucks, Bob Morrison. Most are gone now.”
Bruce might have added a few other names as members of the Old Coots – Ned Clark, Tom Murray, Bob Johnson and Otto Skopil Jr.
“Beginning in the early ‘80s,” Bruce continued, the Old Coots met monthly for lunch, and maybe a glass of wine or two, at various locations in the Willamette Valley. The stories shared were unforgettable because these men came from a time when one or two principled individuals — OK, maybe in a smoke-filled room, and maybe late at night, and maybe fueled by a bottle or two — could make a difference, a real difference.
“I was in awe of Vic Atiyeh at these sessions. Partly because of the jokes he told with such adept timing and delivery, and the most beautiful twinkle in his eye … But mostly because of the love he very clearly engendered among every member in that group, and most avowedly from our one very upright Democrat — John McMillan, former publisher of the Salem Statesman-Journal.”
Bruce claimed correctly that he was the youngest Old Coot “by many a year.” But for a time near the end of that august group’s gatherings, I was allowed to intrude on and even join in the meetings. You may have seen my father, Phil Bladine, on Bruce’s list. He was a good friend and close political ally of Vic Atiyeh. After Dad’s stroke in 2003, I took him to most of the Old Coots lunches until the group finally disbanded due to advancing age, health problems and approaching mortality.
I relished their political, social and cultural musings about days past, present and future. And of Vic Atiyeh, I can only share Bruce’s final sentiments:
“I am so saddened he is gone. I am so honored to have considered him a friend. We Oregonians are fortunate he was our governor when he was. I’m hoping there is someone out there who can fill his shoes.”
Jeb Bladine can be reached at email@example.com or 503-687-1223.