Ofield Dukes: Renowned public relations specialist dies at 79

Ofield Dukes

The reported death of Ofield Dukes, Dec. 6, has caused the African American community to pause out of respect for the loss of talent and fervor, and out of wonderment at how that particular void will be filled.

He founded Ofield Dukes and Associates and for 42 years set the standard of excellence for public relations work that ventured into the fight for justice and into the mainstream in brand new ways.

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.

In 1993, he founded the Black Public Relations Society of Washington.

He was among the first to be inducted into the Washington, D.C./National Capital PRSA Hall of Fame in 1999.

He was the first African American to receive the Public Relations Society of America’s Gold Anvil in 2001, the highest individual award in the public relations industry.

In 2002 Cathy Hughes, founder and CEO of Radio One, named the building that would house three of her Detroit stations the Ofield Dukes Building.

In 2003 he was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. In the same year he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award for Community Service.

In 2005 he was named, by PRWeek, one of five “Communicators who Awed.”

Dukes was known to say, “Public relations is synonymous with human communication.” In a publication of the African American Public Relations Collective, he said, “Even Jesus Christ was involved in communications. He had the disciples as advance persons and John the Baptist was sort of a PR agent.” He said public relations is more than just promoting an event or just engaging in an outpouring of publicity.

“Ofield Dukes revolutionized the public relations industry by increasing the visibility of African Americans working in the field,” Gregory Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), said in a statement. He will forever be regarded as a standard bearer for public relations professionals of all races.”

Lee called him a “true giant in the world of PR,” and said he will truly be missed.

National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Chairman Cloves Campbell released the following statement: “On behalf of all of our member publications, I want to express our sympathy to the family of Ofield Dukes. His contributions to the Black Community are the immeasurable. He was a true pioneer in public relations, being one of the first African Americans to really utilize the practice of networking. As a member of the NNPA Foundation Board of Directors, his input was greatly appreciated. He will be greatly missed.”

Congressman Charles Rangel issued the following statement after learning of Dukes passed away on December 5, 2011:

“As a Member of Congress, I have been blessed to call many wonderful people my friend, but none more than Ofield Dukes. I am extremely saddened by the passing of such great man who had significant impact in not only my life, but that of my Colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, dating back to its founding. Aside from his many accomplishments in business, politics and his personal life, Ofield was simply a true and kind person who sought to make our country a better place for all. I will forever miss his virtue, justness and sincerity.

Ofield was the best communications strategist in Washington. He helped organized the first Congressional Black Caucus (CBS) dinner in l971 and served as an advisor to numerous CBC chairpersons. He was a founding member of the CBC Foundation and served on the Foundation Board (CBCF) for 14 years. As the first chairman of the Foundation’s Finance and Fundraising Committee, Ofield was instrumental in developing strategies for fundraising including recruiting business support and active involvement.

Ofield’s devotion to his craft was esteemed by everyone. In 1988, Ofield was selected by CBC Chairman Julian Dixon to serve as chairman of a historic black-tie dinner in salute of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. When the CBC Chairman Clyburn needed a person to organize and edit the first news letter of the CBC-CBCF, he called Ofield and for seven years he did a superb job in editing the CBC-CBCF newsletter.

In addition to his work with the CBC & CBCF, Ofield was dedicated to fighting for racial equality. He served for 10 years on the board of the MLK, Jr. Committee for Non- Violent Social Change and as an advisor to Mrs. Coretta Scott King. He also served as an advisor to Dr. Leon Sullivan, organized the first Stevie Wonder March to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday and was an advisor to Alex Haley, author of the epic book “Roots” which provided the impetus for the historic TV series.

Aside from all his public service achievements, Ofield always find time to nurture the next generation of communicators and political minds. As an adjunct professor for 25 years at the Howard University John H. Johnson School of Communication, Ofield is credited with influencing hundreds of students to enter the field of public relations. He also taught public relations at the American University for eight years.

In politics, Ofield served as a communications consultant to the Democratic National Committee in six presidential campaigns. In 1998, Ofield worked very closely with me in developing the national African American media strategy that helped generate a large black voter turnout that helped Democrats to gain control of the House of Representatives.

Ofield is credited with having tremendous impact on the professional lives of many. Radio One Founder Cathy Hughes says there would not be a Radio One without the early support and continuing advice of Ofield. Upon receiving his graduate degree from Princeton University, Robert Johnson called Ofield who arranged the first two jobs for Johnson in Washington, D.C. prior to his founding BET.

In 2001, Ofield became the first African American to win the Public Relations Society of America’s Gold Anvil, the highest individual awards given in the public relations industry. In 2004, PRWeek named him one of this nation’s top five national communicators. In 2009, Dukes succeeded Dr. C. Delores Tucker as president of the Bethune- DuBois Institute.

Ofield’s other professional recognition includes: being named by the Washington Post as one of the top five PR persuaders in Washington; among the first to be inducted into the Washington, D.C. Public Relations Hall of Fame; inducted into the Commonwealth of Virginia Communications Hall of Fame; and receiving the Wayne State University 2010 Alumni Achievement Award.

Ofield’s list of accomplishments goes on and on, but what his friendship meant to me and so many people is immeasurable. I want to express my deepest condolences to his beautiful family.

Ofield Dukes was one of a kind and he will be deeply missed. His legacy will last throughout Washington and our country.