W. Thomas “Tom” Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA, the East Central District’s 2013 Platinum Award recipient, passed away on Sunday, June 18 in Akron, Ohio. He was 84.
A graduate of Kent State University with a degree in journalism, Tom also completed the Advanced Management Program in Business from The Ohio State University. He began his public relations career in 1955 as an advertising and publicity assistant at the Ohio Edison Company in Akron.
Tom was a man of “firsts.” He established the first community relations program for the Cooper-Bessemer Corporation and was the first Community and Public Affairs Manager at B.F. Goodrich before moving to the agency side, establishing the first public relations function for the Urda Company. After moving to Greenville, S.C. in the mid-1990s, Tom was the first Director of Public Relations at Jackson-Dawson Marketing Solutions (now Jackson Marketing, Motorsports & Events). He built a successful division that won the Michelin account, and he later served the agency as Senior Public Relations Counselor.
Following his retirement in 2007, he returned to Akron and went back to work, opening his own consulting practice and working as Director-Communications for Akron SCORE, an organization mostly comprised of retired senior managers and executives that consults with existing and start-up businesses to help create jobs and improve the economy.
His leadership in PRSA was exemplary. He was the founding president of the Akron Area Chapter in 1968 and 1969, having spun it off from the Cleveland Chapter. After he returned to Akron, he served as president again in 2010. He also was president of the South Carolina Chapter. In recognition of his service, Akron made him a life member in 1994 and South Carolina followed suit in 2005.
In 2003, Tom was named the Distinguished Public Relations Practitioner in South Carolina and the chapter renamed the award for him in 2007. He received the Lighthouse Award from the Cleveland Chapter for lifetime achievement in 2012 and the East Central PRSA District lifetime achievement award in 2013. He was a member of the PRSA National Board of Ethics and Professional Standards and served his Kent State alma mater as a member of the Professional Advisory Board for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Kelly J. Wilson, APR, South Carolina Chapter president, who was the first recipient of the Tom Duke Award, said Tom “truly epitomized everything the award is designed to recognize, and it was an appropriate and enduring tribute to his service not only to our state and our chapter, but also to the public relations profession as a whole.”
Mary Eaddy, APR, Fellow PRSA, recalled that “Tom’s exemplary commitment to professional ethics set a high standard for all. He was an excellent communicator devoted to advancing the public relations profession.
One of Tom’s classmates in 1998 and past PRSA Chair, Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, said he was “a consummate professional and a shining example of paying it forward and giving back to the profession. His sage advice will be missed and also remembered for the wisdom it imparted to colleagues and aspiring pros.”
Tom served as a GoodFellow for Bill Gay, APR, Fellow PRSA, in 2014. “I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but nevertheless he had a major impact on my career. Through his solid advice and encouragement, he helped me shape what began as a raw outline of a College of Fellows application into a package that resulted in my induction to the College. I will be forever grateful for his assistance.”
Rhoda Weiss, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA and past PRSA Chair remembers Tom as a “passionate advocate for advancing our profession and our professionals. When I was national chair, we would talk regularly about his ideas for making PRSA of more value to our members. He loved being involved with PRSA on every level, attending conferences, mentoring others, leading chapters, serving nationally and demonstrating enormous pride in all we do. He will be greatly missed.”
He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Juanita, five children, six grandchildren and other relatives and friends. The family suggests memorials be made to the Tom and Juanita Duke Endowed Scholarship in Public Relations, c/o Kent State University Foundation, Inc., P.O Box 5190, Kent, Ohio 44242-0001.
Condolences may be sent to Juanita Duke, 4169 Tomahawk Trace, Copley, Ohio 44321-2797.