PRSA Remembers Ofield Dukes, APR, Fellow PRSA

December 7, 2011

Ofield Dukes, APR, Fellow PRSA, a distinguished PR professional, educator and journalist, died this morning in his hometown of Detroit after a battle with bone cancer. He was 79.

Dukes was president of Ofield Dukes and Associates, a highly regarded Washington, D.C.-based PR firm that specialized in political affairs and minority affairs with particular focus on African-American and African issues.

He was a PRSA member for more than 40 years. In 2001, he received the Gold Anvil Award, PRSA’s highest individual honor. He was the first African-American that the Society honored with the award.

Dukes led PRSA’s first National Diversity Task Force in 2002 and 2003, which resulted in the Chapter Diversity Awards. Dukes began an educational campaign across the country, taking the diversity message to Chapters as one of the top priorities of the National leadership.

“Ofield Dukes inspired so many of us to follow our hearts and our passion to make public relations that much better a profession through a commitment to diversity,” said Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, PRSA’s chair and CEO. “His professional legacy lives on in those of us who worked directly with him, who got to know him and who were touched by him.”

A friend and mentor to many

Dukes was born on Aug. 8, 1932, in Rutledge, Ala. He graduated with a degree in journalism from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1958. He went on to receive three National Newspaper Publishers Association awards for editorial, column and feature writing for the Michigan Chronicle in l964.

He relocated to Washington, D.C., later in 1964 to join the Johnson-Humphrey administration as deputy director of information for the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which President Lyndon B. Johnson chaired.

In 1966, the White House appointed him to the staff of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, serving through 1968. Dukes started his own PR firm in 1969 with an office at the National Press Building. Motown Records was his first client.

Dukes helped organize the first Congressional Black Caucus dinner and served on the boards of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change.

He has also been a communications consultant for every Democratic presidential campaign since 1972. In 1993, he founded the Black Public Relations Society of Washington.

At Howard University, where he taught as an adjunct professor for 17 years, he was instrumental in formulating the PR curriculum. Dukes also served as an adjunct professor in the School of Communications at The American University for eight years.

“Ofield was a pioneer, a visionary leader who gave unselfishly to the public relations profession in an effort to increase greater understanding, ethics, and inclusion of people from all walks of life, nationalities, races and genders,” said Dr. Rochelle Ford, APR, associate dean, School of Communications, Howard University. “His contributions to the practice, education and politics are numerous and he has touched many as a mentor and a friend, including me.”

In October, Dukes left Washington, D.C., after 46 years for his native Detroit to spend time with family and friends.

In an email to colleagues this past fall, he wrote: “I feel so blessed in my journey from the cotton fields of rural Alabama where my parents were share-croppers, through a rigidly racially segregated Detroit, surviving the violence of war in Korea, and then the unexpected, great excitement of Washington, D.C.”

Dukes is survived by his daughter, Roxi Victorian, son-in-law, Michael B. Victorian, grandson, Michael Dukes Victorian, and sisters, Lou Brock, Anne Harris, and Betty Hayden. Memorial services are pending. Expressions of condolence to the Dukes family may be sent to 16140 LaSalle Avenue, Detroit, MI 48221.

The PRSA Foundation is creating a scholarship to honor Dukes. Anyone wishing to participate in the scholarship fund may contact, (212) 460-4412.

Ed Note: We encourage readers to use the comments section (by clicking the “View Comments” link below) to share your favorite memories about Ofield and pay tribute to his life.

Ofield Dukes career highlights:

  • Provided leadership in conceptualizing and implementing the first national public education campaign by the National Cancer Institute to reduce the high incidence of cancer among African American by changing their attitudes and lifestyles.
  • Served as an adviser to author Alex Haley, managing his public relations and speaking schedule for a full year following the release of Haley's epic book “Roots,” and the acclaimed television series based on the book.
  • Assisted the U.S. Census Bureau in developing and implementing a minority outreach campaign to maximize minority participation in the 1980 census.
  • Assisted in creating and implementing strategies and an education awareness program for the first National Leadership Forum on Respiratory Health in Minority Populations sponsored by the American Lung Association to reduce smoking in minority population groups.
  • Served as PR representative for the Washington Bullets' professional basketball team and coordinated the one-day victory celebration after the Bullets won the world championship in 1978. The parade down Pennsylvania Avenue attracted more than 100,000 fans.
  • Partnered with Burson-Marsteller, the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board (between 1977 through 2006) in a national grassroots education campaign introducing the public new issues of the $50 bill, the $20 bill, and the $5 and 10 bills.
  • Assisted the Department of Navy and the Marine Corps in developing new policies and programs for minority recruitment


Kevin Saghy says:

I met Ofield as a student and remember being thrilled when he agreed to serve as the keynote speaker for our Ohio Northern University PRSSA Regional Activity. I drove him to and from the airport and we established a great connection during those trips. We continued to work on committees together, and he served as an inspiring mentor to me as I found my way into this profession. Ofield was a busy man but he took time to teach me about public relations, diversity and valuable life lessons. I'm so sad to hear he has passed.

Dec. 7, 2011

Joe Epley, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

While many just take from life, Oldfield gave to life. He deserves the highest praise for his contributions to our profession and to mankind. He has set a high standard for the next generation to follow. And as a past PRSA President, I applaud his support for our Society -- year in, year out.

Dec. 8, 2011

Gigi de Mier, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

I was part of diversity task force and enjoyed his equanimity, sincere interest in your concerns and always wise advice. I am so very sorry we won't be able to here his enlightening words, but his beliefs, friendship and counsel will always be with me.

Dec. 8, 2011

Kathleen Larey Lewton, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Ofield was simply one of a kind and he leaves shoes too big to be filled by any one of us, but he would expect all of us to work together to advance his two passions: public relations, and diversity. His professional acumen and wisdom are legendary, but what made beloved by all who knew him was his incredible kindness and generosity. As national PRSA president and then president of the PRSA Foundation, I had many occasions to ask him for help -- and as busy as he was, and in the last year, with failing health, he always said yes. He set the standard for service and "giving back" that we all should emulate. His legacy of professional achievement and personal generosity will live on in the thousands of PR professionals whom he mentored over the years. Our profession has lost one of those rare individuals who literally helped create contemporary public relations, and we have all lost a dear friend.

Dec. 9, 2011

Jennifer Flowers, APR, President-Elect, Detroit Chapter of PRSA says:

The Detroit chapter of PRSA recognized Ofield at our Annual Meeting last month where we announced a new chapter diversity summit will be named after him (co-sponsored by Wayne State and GM). This is something we hope will become an annual event, and will serve as a testimony to his life's achievements. We are all very saddened by his loss, but inspired by his legacy.

Dec. 9, 2011

Wayne J. Mielke, APR says:

I would like to echo Kathy Lewton's comments, as they reflect my own feelings at this time. I would only add that Ofield was among the first PRSA leaders to lend support to the Detroit Chapter's effort to host the PRSA 2008 International Conference in the Motor City. Everyone involved in the bid process knew it would be an uphill struggle, but with Ofield's confidence it was a struggle worth pursuing, we became emboldened in our resolve to make it happen. Together we did, as Detroit earned that opportunity and proudly hosted the 2008 conference. He will be missed.

Dec. 9, 2011

Emma A. Inman, APR says:

I attended the international conference in 2001 when Ofield received the Gold Anvil Award. As an African-American professional, I wanted to meet this pioneer. I introduced myself. He invited me to a celebration being held in his honor by the National Capital Chapter, which I attended. That began my relationship with Ofield, and I am the better for it. I was honored to have known him. He was inspiring and never tired of encouraging young professionals. Our profession has lost an incredible leader, but his legacy lives on in all of those whose lives he touched.

Dec. 9, 2011

Dr. Amiso M. George, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

I learned about Mr. Dukes as a student at Ohio University, Athens, but met him for the first time during my induction into the PRSA College of Fellows in Washington, D.C. in October 2010. He came over and told me how proud he was of me. He stayed for a while and we got to know each other. I, like most of you on this board, am honored to have met him. He influenced generations of public relations students and professionals. He was a public relations pioneer, a true professional and a complete gentleman. May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Dec. 9, 2011

Bruce Harrison says:

Ofield and I came from Alabama to Washington at just about the same time...and I had a role model, watching and learning from him as he moved with wit, grace and skill through successive levels of government and public communications. Washington is better for his having been engaged here as counselor, teacher and contributor, and while we carry on his lead and legacy, we will miss so much this super friend, ace communicator and cool, classy guy.

Dec. 9, 2011

Barbara Bartos, APR says:

One more career highlight: he was the inspiration for Detroit Chapter PRSA's Multicultural Committee, created in 2002, after having lunch with him at PRSA National.

Dec. 10, 2011

Judy Phair says:

The Washington Post published a lengthy obituary of Ofield today, which highlights in even more detail a truly astonishing career and draws particular attention to the impact Ofield had in such areas as the creation of a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.and "guiding hundreds of students into public relations" through his work with American and Howard Universities. I am so privileged to have had the opportunity to know and work with this brilliant gentleman who is a real public relations hero. And I loved listening to his wonderful stories of a rich and rewarding career.

Dec. 10, 2011

Sunshine Janda Overkamp says:

I was lucky enough to serve on several committees/task forces with Ofield. Every time we met, I learned something from him. And, oh, the marvelous stories he told of his pr adventures! We are so lucky that he chose our profession--he was an exceptional example of how what we do can contribute to the common good. And, he did contribute...mightily!

Dec. 12, 2011

Pamela King-Williams says:

I am Ofield's niece. I would like to thank each and every one of you that wrote a comment. When I am really missing Uncle Ofield I come to sites like this to hear his voice through your comments. Yes, he was an amazing man that made such a significant impact in all of our lives.

July 30, 2015

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