A Steady ‘Heartbeat’ of Duke Human Resources

After 51 Years at Duke, Celenzy Chavis is not ready to retire yet

Celenzy Chavis

And at age 72, as Duke celebrates its Centennial this year with Chavis employed for more than half those 100 years, she has memories and friendships to last a lifetime. And she knows this for certain: She’s not ready to leave just yet.

Since 1972, Chavis has been a fixture among the Duke staff – first as a secretary and then in research roles for the Center for the Study of Aging before transitioning to more than four decades in Duke Human Resources in a variety of positions. She currently is a Senior Staff and Labor Relations Consultant.

“Celenzy is definitely the heartbeat of Labor and Relations,” said Antwan Lofton, Vice President for Duke Human Resources.

Chavis has watched Duke grow both physically and in reputation. She was at Duke in 1980 when Duke North Hospital opened and was instrumental in hiring staff for the new 616-bed hospital as a member of the Recruitment team in Human Resources.

Richard Lee (30 years), Denise Evans (35 years) and Celenzy Chavis (40 years)
Pictured at a length-of-service appreciation event in 2012 are Richard Lee (30 years), Denise Evans (35 years) and Celenzy Chavis (40 years). Photo courtesy of Denise Evans

“I remember the long hours working – leaving, going to get a lunch or dinner break, coming back, working there late at night – because they had a deadline to get the hospital staffed,” she said.

And in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, Chavis experienced the greatest changes of her career as many staff were forced into remote work environments.

“We could see some of the challenges because it was affecting the way people came to work and their performance,” she said.

Her fondest memories came at Family Days, a carnival-like experience that Duke Human Resources sponsored for the workforce in the 1980s and early 1990s when she mingled with co-workers’ families.

And if she has any advice learned over five decades at Duke, it’s this: “Understand your role and the purpose for the work that you do. Be flexible, open to change and foster teamwork.”

Denise Evans, a former Assistant Vice President for Staff and Labor Relations at Duke who retired in 2017, met Chavis in 1987. Evans considers Chavis among her dearest friends. Their tenure at Duke was five years apart.

“We had always said we were going to retire together,” Evans said. “And when I got to 40 years, and she was at 45, I was like, ‘Celenzy, I’m ready.’ And she said, ‘OK.’”

But Chavis wasn’t ready then. And she’s still not.

“I have a project that I'm working on, that's a personal project,” Chavis said. “And, so, that's what keeps me.”

Four grandchildren and lifelong friends are waiting in retirement whenever Chavis is ready.

Send story ideas, shout-outs and photographs by writing working@duke.edu.

Follow Working@Duke on X (Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram.