Remembering Ofield Dukes

Carolyn P. DuBose, Special to The Informer | 6/18/2013, 9:59 a.m.
Ofield Dukes (Courtesy of The Plank Center)

He went to historically black colleges trying to inspire young people to enter the public relations field. One of his favorite places was Hampton University's Scripps Howard School of Journalism in Hampton, Va. He often talked to me about it, because he knew Hampton was my alma mater. The thing that impressed him most was the fact that every time he saw President William Harvey he always said the same thing. "How are you doing, Brother Dukes?" This meant a lot to Dukes. He said Dr. Harvey was the only college president he ever saw strolling the campus among his students. I thought it was interesting that, here was a man who had worked many years at two colleges, and had never seen that before.

In 2002, his close friend Cathy Hughes named a building in honor of Dukes in Detroit. The founder of Radio One housed three of her radio stations in the Ofield Dukes Communications Center. She credited him with early support that contributed to her success in the media. Dukes also arranged the first two jobs in the District for BET billionaire Robert Johnson. At the time, he was just starting out after receiving his graduate degree from Princeton University. Dukes helped a lot of people. They depended on him, because he was reliable, loyal and trustworthy. So he was amazed when somebody would go along with him and then not give him credit.

Dukes was still in Washington when he called me one day to say that he was writing his life story. I can recall how excited he was. Obviously, it was a labor of love. He asked me to edit his draft, but I wanted to be a reader. I told him that and advised him that I would occasionally make suggestions where I saw fit.

He sent the copy as an e-mail. It looked like the pages would never stop coming out of the printer. Apparently, I did not know what I was walking into. All I remembered was Dukes saying, "I can't believe the way the words kept pouring out." As I flipped through the pages of his book, I quickly realized that he had lived a purposeful life.

Dukes was calm and relaxed at all times. People close to him knew that Dukes liked to quote from poet Khalil Gibran. He also sang the praises of philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who was famous for his essay, "Self-Reliance."

He was interested in many aspects of life. We talked about many things when I was reading over his draft, but he kept the details of his illness from me. I knew that he had health issues, but I did not find how serious they were until his family came and packed everything for the move back to Detroit. Dukes spent 47 years in Washington. So, it was shocking when he returned to his hometown in late 2011.

Back in Detroit

When he went back home to be close to his family, Dukes and I kept in touch by phone. For a while, he could not use his computer, because it was still packed. We fell into a pattern of weekly telephone calls. In the past, he and I mostly talked about politics. Then, one day, I realized that we were talking more about his family and the City of Detroit. He loved the fact that the professional sports teams were doing so well. He was grateful they were providing a more positive image of a city that was always in the news for something negative.