In Memoriam: PR Industry Loses Legend Ofield Dukes

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I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Ofield Dukes, a leading Washington, D.C.-based public relations practitioner who helped transform the industry. I met Ofield early in my career at a meeting of the Black Public Relations Society of DC — a professional chapter that he founded in 1993 — and ran into him many, many times over the years. Ofield absolutely loved the practice of PR and really believed in its impact. After even the briefest of conversations with him, I always walked away feeling energized and excited to be working in this field.

Photo Courtesy of Keith Jenkins/The Washington Post

A trailblazer, Ofield helped pave the way for more diversity within the PR industry, a goal he steadfastly embraced throughout his entire career in Washington. He organized career fairs, spoke at industry events, wrote compelling columns about diversity in the field’s trade publications and encouraged young people of color to pursue a career in PR. Ofield’s credentials were impressive; he came to Washington to work for President Johnson’s administration and was one of the few African Americans working at the White House in the 1960s. He also organized within the civil rights sphere, and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. After working for the administration, Ofield opened his own PR agency and counseled not only big civil rights names like Coretta Scott King, but also large corporate and NGO brands like Anheuser-Busch, AT&T and the National Education Association. He won numerous awards and was even called “one of the top public relations persuaders in the city.” He was the first African American to win the Gold Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America — the association’s highest honor — and is honored in several PR halls of fame.

Every January, we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. and I think we have Ofield to thank for that. He worked tirelessly, planning marches in Washington and other activities to push Congress to create this federal holiday.

As social change communicators at Vanguard, we embrace and continue to honor Ofield’s vision for our profession: valuing workplace diversity and using communications to fight for social change. Ofield was an inspirational leader. While he will be greatly missed, his legacy will continue to inspire PR professionals to step up and communicate the change they wish to see in our profession, and our world.

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