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By Stacey M. Brown, NNPA Newswire’s Chief National Correspondent
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Dr. Helen Chaves Otho, beloved author, college professor and sister to National Association of Newspaper Publishers President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chaves Jr., passed away at the age of 89 on January 1, 2022 in Oxford, North Carolina.

A lover of reading, writing and history, Dr. Otho received her Ph.D. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison majoring in Black Studies and African, Afro-American, and Caribbean literature.

She also studied Elizabethan and medieval literature, and her thesis “The New Tact: Moral Perspectives on Black Literature” was published in the Library of Congress.

Dr. Otho presented Sundiata: An Epic of Ancient Mali by D. T. Nyan, which showed her appreciation and knowledge of African culture.

She wished to impart knowledge to all citizens of the world.

“My sister was also a freedom fighter,” said Dr. Chaves.

“The Chavis family has been fighting for freedom, justice, and equality for 250 years in America and Africa.”

Dr. Otho was born on April 21, 1932 in Oxford, North Carolina, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Chaves Sr.; A Mason at Prince Hall and Supervisor of African American Child Care Institutions, Elizabeth R. Chavis, a writer and public school teacher for 65 years.

A municipal park in Raleigh, North Carolina named after its predecessor, breeder John Chaves (1763-1838).

Beloved scholar, Dr. Otho, also received her B.A. from St. Augustine College, and her M.A. from Central North Carolina University.

She eventually became head of the English department at St. Augustine’s College.

She has also been widely acclaimed and respected as a conscientious scholar dedicated to promoting excellence in literature and other arts. Dr. Otho has also taught at the following Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Howard University, Johnson C. Smith University, North Carolina Central University, Hampton University, and Jackson State University.

Dr. Otho pushed to understand African American history, including educating her students and others about John Chaves, who fought in the Revolutionary War and became a mentor who taught some of North Carolina’s most influential leaders.

Dr. Otho is survived by daughter Agulunyudée Elizabeth Otho, brother Dr. Benjamin F. Chaves Jr. and sisters Dr. La Ruda Francine Chaves and Carol Faye Patton and a host of other relatives.

Funeral services for Dr. Otho are scheduled for 1 p.m. EDT, Saturday, Jan. 8 at the Chavis Family Cemetery in Oxford, North Carolina.

Condolences can be sent to Wright Funeral Home, Inc. On [email protected], or by visiting the funeral home website at www.wrightfuneralhomeoxford.com.

Here is the official obituary of Dr. Helen Chaves Otho:

Dr. Helen Chaves Otho
April 21, 1932 – January 1, 2022

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Dr. Helen Chaves Otho was born to the late Benjamin Franklin Chaves, father and Mrs. Elizabeth Ridley Chaves on April 21, 1932. She left this life on January 1, 2022. She was the second of four children: her sisters, the late Mrs. John Chaves Davenport and Dr. LaRuda Francine Chaves and her brother, the Reverend Dr. Benjamin Franklin Chaves Jr.

growth and service

She grew up in a loving home and went to St Cyprian Episcopal Church in Oxford, North Carolina since childhood, where she was a member of the choir, altar guild, and council. She attended Oxford public schools, Anger P Duke Primary School and graduated from Mary Potter High School in 1948.

As a lifelong professional teacher, she wanted her church to become more involved with schools and young people in Oxford to help students achieve a higher standard. In February 2010, she sponsored through the Granville Arts Council the School Artists Program at Northern Granville Middle School and Mary Potter Middle School. In 2009 she coordinated the centenary celebration of St. Cyprian Episcopal Church. Over the years she has also coordinated several summer enrichment programs for underserved students at Saint Cyprien.

She attended St. Augustine College in Raleigh and received her BA in English and French in 1952. MA in English from North Carolina College in 1958; and Ph.D. She earned a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin in 1971. There she met her late husband, Paul Anady Otho from Sudan in East Africa, while they were both studying at the University of Wisconsin. They married in Gambella, Ethiopia in 1971. Her beautiful daughter Agulunyudiye Elizabeth Otho was born to this union in 1973. The three family members toured East Africa, and in the 1980s, Helen and Anadi taught at the University of Juba in the southern region of Sudan. Through their efforts, the couple has brought more than 30 refugees to reside in the United States, from Sudan; Ethiopia; Sierra Leone, West Africa; and Dominican Republic.

Dr. Otho served as Chair of the Humanities Department at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, from 1974 to 1979 and Chair of the English Department at St. Augustine College from 1984 to 1996, where she directed the Bush-Hewlett Cross-curricular Writing Program. As a professor of English, she received a position from St. Augustine’s College in 1999. In addition to teaching at St. Augustine’s College, she has taught English at several colleges and universities across the United States: North Carolina Central University, and North Carolina State University. Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Wisconsin, Meredith College, North Carolina State University, and Howard University in Washington, DC. After retiring in 2001, she taught online at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia; Louisburg College in Louisburg, North Carolina; and Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi.

She has received numerous awards for her scholarly endeavors and contributions to society. Her biography appears in Twentieth Century Book, 2005; Who is Among the African Americans, 2000; Certificate of Completion, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, 2001; Vermont Studio Writers Center Fellowship in Johnson, Vermont; St. Augustine College Distinguished Plaque and Trophy; Faculty Research Scholarship from the United Negro College Fund; Shield of Scientific Achievement, presented by the Senate of Central North Carolina University in 2007; and several National Scholarships for the Humanities Summer Symposium for College Teachers.

she is an author John Chaves: African American, preacher, teacher, and mentor 1763-1838, published by McFarland Publishers in 2001; a novel, Trip to Gambella; book of poems Raise the fences high!; And History of the Chavis, Ridley and Satterwhite families in Oxford, North Carolina, published by the Library of Congress. her thesis The New Decency: Moral Perspectives of Black LiteratureUniversity of Wisconsin, 1972, also published by the Library of Congress.

By God’s grace, she has also coordinated the installation of the Historic Route Marker for Dr. JC Shaw and the Mary Potter Academy in Oxford. She was the founder and president of the John Chaves Historical Society and helped to unearth and redecorate the new historic John Chaves road sign in Raleigh, North Carolina on July 11, 2010. She is also responsible for installing a permanent sign at the potential grave of John Chavis located on the former Willy P. Mangom ranch, after It was found after extensive searching, along with several other unmarked slave cemeteries in Rougemont, North Carolina.

She was a member of the Nature Lovers Garden Club; Les Gemmes, Inc. ; Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Incorporated; College Language Association; Association for the Study of African American Life and History; Langston Hughes Society; Zora Neale Hurston Society; Anna c. cooper; North Carolina Writers Network; Mid-Atlantic Writers Association; National Council of Teachers of English; Toni Morrison Society; Oxford Women’s Club; National Mary Potter Alumni Association; and the John Chavis Historical Society. Through the John Chavis Historical Society, she orchestrated the first annual Oxford International Festival, which in its fifth year is bigger and better and now takes place in the beautiful city center of Oxford.

harvest time

She leaves to celebrate her life, her brother, Dr. Benjamin F. Chaves Jr (Martha); her sister, Dr. La Ruda Francine Chaves; her daughter Mrs. Agulu Otho Norman (Collis) and grandson Collis Raymond Norman Jr.; adopted sister, Carol Fay Payton from Houston, Texas; four unmarried daughters, Abigail Norman, Mercedes Norman, Jasmine Norman and Princess Norman; five nieces: Marva Elizabeth Davenport, Anna Elizabeth Chavis, Paula Chavis-Jones, Nicole (Nikki) Bullock, and Renita Pace Timberlake; four sons, Benjamin Franklin Chaves, the third, Franklin Chaves, Reginald Louis Chaves, and John Mandela Chaves; Great nephews and nephews, and a host of other relatives and friends.

Contributions may be made to sponsor the John Chaves Historical Society to the Dr. Helen Chavis Otho Scholarship Fund for St. Augustine College and University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.

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