Wally Priestly, Oregon Politician

PORTLAND - Wally Priestley, one of Oregon's most colorful and outspoken political activists, died in a Portland hospital yesterday from an acute respiratory attack. He was 59.

The former state representative suffered from chronic asthma, but investigators are trying to determine if his condition was aggravated by smoke from a burning pan found on a stove in his house, said state medical examiner Larry Lewman.

His death came as he was attempting a political comeback. Mr. Priestley was one of two top vote-getters in the May primary for the District 2 seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. He would have been in a runoff on Nov. 6 with Gary D. Hansen. Ballots were being printed yesterday morning, but election officials stopped the presses to remove Mr. Priestley's name.

``It's a real shock,'' Hansen said. ``I give my condolences to his family. Everybody in Portland admired his tenaciousness.

``He committed himself to working for the causes he felt were right, and you have to admire that dedication. His personality will be missed.''

Mr. Priestley, a Democrat, began his public career when he was elected to the Oregon House in 1964. He served until 1985 except for a two-year break after he lost a 1970 election. He served on the Portland School Board from 1976 to 1981 and was a member of the Multnomah County Education Service District board from 1976 to 1980.

Colleagues remembered him as an activist, a gadfly, a maverick, an eccentric who strongly identified with liberal issues.

The label most often attached to him was populist, a fitting label for a familiar figure at demonstrations for various liberal causes, including peace, the environment, the homeless and farm workers.

He opposed many U.S. military policies and nuclear power. Last Oct. 16, he was the first of 21 people arrested while protesting U.S. involvement in Central America during an appearance in Portland by Vice President Dan Quayle.

``No protest was too small for Wally,'' said Portland attorney Jack Faust. ``He was a walking encyclopedia of liberal causes.''

Mr. Priestley often served as the conscience of the Legislature, said House Speaker Vera Katz, D-Portland.

``All legislatures need a Wally Priestley,'' Katz said. ``He was not afraid to point out major flaws in legislation. Sometimes he was right. Sometimes he was wrong. When he was right he made us think. We've missed having the Wally Priestleys.''

Funeral arrangements were pending.