I, along with Durocher Scholarship winners Lily Medina and Tyler Gawenda, had the honor and privilege of meeting Ofield Dukes last month during the 2011 PRSA Detroit Annual Meeting. Though a PR legend, you would never have guessed – his humility wouldn’t allow it. Dukes spent his career rubbing elbows with Washington insiders, but there he stood, attentively listening to three aspiring public relations professionals talk about their first experiences in the field.
Soft-spoken by nature with a slender built, it would be easy to overlook Dukes in a crowded banquet hall. But make no mistake – the legacy of Ofield Dukes towers over the field of public relations, and the entire profession mourns the loss of this giant.
Ofield Dukes, APR, Fellow PRSA, passed away on Wednesday, December 7, 2011, in his native city of Detroit after a battle with cancer. He was 79.
A Wayne State alumnus and proud Detroiter, Ofield Dukes leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Following his graduation from Wayne State University in 1958, he began writing for the Michigan Chronicle, receiving accolades as an award-winning editor and columnist. In 1964 he left Detroit for Washington D.C. to serve as deputy director of information for the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity under President Lyndon B. Johnson. He founded his own public relations firm, Ofield Dukes & Associates, in 1969, representing Motown Records and British manufacturing giant Lever Brothers among other clients.
A trailblazer for African-American public relations professionals, PRSA honored Dukes in 2001 with the Gold Anvil Award, the highest honored bestowed by the national organization. He was the first African-American to receive the award. Dukes would go on to lead PRSA’s first National Diversity Task Force in 2002 and 2003. Following his death, the PRSA Foundation announced it would be establishing the Ofield Dukes Scholarship for Excellence in Public Relations.
We are all saddened by the lost of a great leader. We do take some comfort in knowing that Mr. Dukes lived long enough to hear incoming PRSA Detroit President Jennifer Flowers announce that our upcoming diversity conference would be named in his honor. What better way to keep alive Dukes’ memory?
Only by standing on the shoulders of giants can we see further.