Kevin Duffus is the son of a D-Day veteran (one of the first troop transport pilots over France in the hours before the Normandy invasion) and a distinguished career Air Force officer.
His father’s great-grandfather once served as the representative of the Queen of Madagascar to the Court of Queen Victoria. His mother, an artist and aspiring dress designer (whose great-grandfather, E.I. Horsman founded the Horsman Doll company and whose O’Keeffe family genealogy includes a branch to Georgia O’Keeffe), devoted herself to her husband’s career and their five children but still found time for volunteer work which once involved a close association with Madame Chiang Kai-shek.
Duffus moved with his parents every one to two years, including an assignment at Taipei, Taiwan, until they settled in Greenville, North Carolina when he was 15. He has lived in North Carolina ever since.
At 17, having read the captivating history written by maverick historian David Stick of shipwrecks, lost colonists, pirates and the world’s first powered flight, Duffus and two friends set off for North Carolina’s Outer Banks—by bicycle!
Pedaling nearly 450 miles in five days, Duffus toured the state’s coastline for the first time in 1971. At the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Duffus remembers experiencing an intense feeling of deja-vu. Later that same year, while still in high school, Duffus earned his scuba diving certification and attempted to find the long-lost German U-352 off Cape Lookout. He was unsuccessful. Undaunted, he discovered, explored and identified a sunken Confederate gunboat in the zero visibility waters of Chicod Creek in eastern North Carolina.
Duffus’ broadcasting career began in 1972 and by the age of 23 he was directing the highest-rated locally produced television news program in the nation at Raleigh station WRAL-TV.
Fulfilling his long-held dream to produce a television documentary, at 26, Duffus produced, wrote, photographed and edited “North Carolina Lighthouses—Romance and Reality,” which earned a RTNDAC Best Documentary award and helped to inspire North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt and Senator Jesse Helms to work together to protect the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from the eroding shoreline.
In 1981, Duffus co-produced a national documentary on community efforts to fight crime and shared a George Foster Peabody award for excellence in journalism.
Between 1984 and 1987, Duffus served as state-wide producer for pioneering live satellite television coverage from Plymouth, Portsmouth and London, England and Manteo, North Carolina, featuring events and festivities celebrating the state’s Quadricentenial and Walter Raleigh’s sponsored New World voyages. At Devonshire’s Compton Castle, ancestral home of Walter Raleigh‘s half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Duffus directed an exclusive interview with Mrs. Walter Raleigh Gilbert in 1984.
In 1985, Duffus ventured twice to Tanzania in East Africa to produce an hour-long documentary about drought and famine. The documentary was subsequently honored by the World Hunger Media Judges Award (which Duffus accepted from Kenny Rogers at the United Nations), and the National Education Association Award. In 1989, Duffus traveled around the world, filming on location in Costa Rica, Tanzania and the Philippines, to produce a public television documentary that examined how Habitat for Humanity built houses and forged friendships outside the United States. Duffus’ other honors include the Edward R. Murrow Award while serving as executive producer of a multi-faceted environmental educational effort for WRAL which featured Walter Cronkite as its spokesman.
In recent years, Duffus has returned to his life-long passion for North Carolina maritime history. Duffus has combined his 30-plus years of skills at research, writing, photography and editing to produce a series of feature length documentaries. Those productions include: The Graveyard of the Atlantic—400 Years of Shipwrecks, Mysteries and Heroic Rescues, a Telly Award winner; The Cape Hatteras Light—America’s Greatest Sentinel, winner of the gold Aurora Award; and Move of the Century, documenting the remarkable relocation of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
In 2001, Duffus completed three years of research, interviews and 700 hours of editing on the three hour production, War Zone—World War Two Off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. War Zone examines a period during World War Two that became one of the greatest maritime disasters in history and the American nation’s worst-ever defeat at sea. For six months over sixty-five German U-boats crossed the Atlantic to hunt Allied merchant vessels practically unopposed and within view of American coastal communities. Three hundred ninety-seven ships were sunk or damaged and nearly 5,000 people were killed. War Zone features the forgotten lessons of national defense preparedness, feats of exceptional bravery and heroism; and touching stories of lost innocence, of love and of the irrepressible American spirit. War Zone has won numerous awards.
In 2002, Duffus announced his discovery of the original first-order Fresnel lens from the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which had been “lost” for 140 years.
The apparatus, produced in France of 960 crown-glass prisms, was hidden in “a good storehouse” in Granville County, 200 miles from the Cape. It was the last known location of the lens, according to published historical records. One-hundred-forty-years later the fate of the lens remained a mystery. Tim Harrison, president of the American Lighthouse Foundation once wrote, “Even to this day, the whereabouts of the first-order Fresnel lens taken from Cape Hatteras remains one of the great-unsolved mysteries of American lighthouse history.” Others have called the lost Hatteras lens “the ‘holy grail’ of American lighthouses.”
Duffus discovered the location of the lens, and the stunning story of its odyssey, while conducting a yearlong search at National Archives, the Library of Congress, and North Carolina Archives. Thousands of original, hand-written documents were searched for clues to the mystery of the lens. The extraordinary odyssey of the Hatteras lens, and the fate of other lighthouse lenses are described in a book by Duffus titled: The Lost Light—A Civil War Mystery. The book spans 200 years of American history and is a spellbinding tale of plot-twists, ironies, redemption and dishonor. As a result of Duffus’ effort, the nationally-significant artifact has been preserved, reconstructed and exhibited at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, in Hatteras, North Carolina.
In recognition of Duffus’ years of research, writing, filmmaking and devotion to the accurate historical record of the Cape Hatteras Light Station, he was chosen to deliver the keynote address at the 200th anniversary celebration at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in October, 2003.
Duffus’ long-standing but seemingly inexplicable connection to Cape Hatteras and its lighthouse (beginning with his first visit there by bicycle in 1971) was revealed over time when he discovered that his great great-grandfather, Michael O’Brien, a soldier in the 9th New York Volunteer Regiment, was among the first 80 Union soldiers to set foot in the Tar Heel State in August 1861. The 9th, better known as “Hawkin’s Zouaves,” spent nearly a year on Hatteras and Roanoke Islands and were often dispatched for sentry duty at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
In 2006, after many years of photographic research and months of writing, design and layout, Duffus published his second book, Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks—An Illustrated Guide, a coffee-table format, soft cover edition of 176 pages, featuring over 250 photographs of past and present shipwrecks and wreck artifacts, along with GPS locations and directions to dozens of wreck sites.
The book includes new research on historic sites altered by inlet migration and a tribute to the forgotten heroes of the islands. The foreword of the book was written by Duffus‘ friend and mentor, David Stick, who has described the volume as the long-awaited sequel to his nearly six-decade-old and still in print, Graveyard of the Atlantic.
In 2008, after completing years of research, Kevin Duffus published The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate, a detailed examination of the famous seafaring rogue’s final six months in North Carolina. The controversial book presents stunning contradictions to traditional historical accounts about Black Beard’s origins, his travels and motivations as a pirate, his death, and the identity and fate of his most trusted crew members.
Kevin Duffus has been an avid sailor, exploring the western Atlantic waters between Rhode Island and the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. In 1989, he helped to sail Walter Cronkite’s ketch from Tortola to Wrightsville Beach during which time a ghost accompanied the 4 man crew for 3 consecutive days. Duffus also loves mountains and he and his wife once climbed 4 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot summits in 7 days. He also still rides a bike and hopes to someday, in the near future, ride across the United States from west to east.
Kevin Duffus is currently on the board of directors of the Blackbeard Adventure Alliance.
Previously, he served for two years as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, Hatteras, NC.
Stay tuned, there will be more to come!