Dr. Francine Oputa, the retired director of Fresno State’s director of the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, is remembered for her strong voice advocating for diversity as well as a smile that brightened the lives of all who knew her.
Dr. Oputa died Thursday at the age of 70.
Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval on Monday called Dr. Oputa an “unwavering champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion, serving as the guiding light for discussions on challenging issues with integrity, resolve, and visionary leadership.
“Her impact on our campus community, both personally and professionally, is immeasurable. Dr. Oputa was a mentor and a source of inspiration to many of us. While we are collectively heartbroken over this tremendous loss, we are also deeply grateful for Dr. Oputa’s legacy of bridge-building, dialogue, and fellowship.”
During her 30-year career at Fresno State, Dr. Oputa also served as director of the Center for Women and Culture and director of the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute. She retired as director of the Cross Cultural and Gender Center in 2021.
Dr. Joseph Castro, Fresno State’s former president, said he worked with Dr. Oputa when she was co-chair of the President’s Commission on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and called her a “beloved colleague.”
“She was one of my most influential advisors on issues related to campus culture and she always made time for students or colleagues who needed her advice,” Castro said.
“Dr. Oputa challenged us to think about complex issues in new ways, embracing diversity of background and perspective, and modeling inclusiveness. One of my favorite moments was when Dr. Oputa delivered a beautiful and inclusive blessing at the Top Dog Ceremony in front of thousands of community members. She was a tremendous blessing to all who knew and worked with her at Fresno State and in the community.”
Service to the City
Dr. Oputa’s public service included serving on the city of Fresno’s Parks, Recreation, and Arts Commission.
Mayor Jerry Dyer said he was saddened by her death, calling Dr. Oputa “an incredible loving woman who sacrificed so much for this community.
“Francine Oputa served as a commissioner on the Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission and has served for decades as a mentor and role model to hundreds of inner-city youth. My thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Pastor Henry Oputa, and their family. The gates of heaven just welcomed in a saintly woman,” Dyer said.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Dr. Oputa studied theater arts at CSU Long Beach from 1971 through 1974 and then earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from CSU Stanislaus in 1979. She earned a master’s in mass communication from Fresno State in 1984 and a doctorate degree in education in 2011 from the University of California, Davis/Fresno State doctoral program.
She Touched Many Lives
Among her friends, Dr. Oputa was “genuine, honest and fierce!” Fresno State’s former first lady, Mary Castro said. “Personally, I mourn the loss of one of my dearest friends. She had a way of ‘smiling from the heart,'” she said.
Dr. Oputa was a dedicated public servant, a captivating storyteller, and a partner with her husband in ministry, Mary Castro said. She recalled that the two of them founded and led the Bold Readers Book Club at Fresno State for five years.
“I witnessed her navigate difficult subjects and conversations with wisdom and grace. She also knew how to accept love and be vulnerable. Her smile and presence made every room brighter,” she said.
Friends and former students joined in posting tributes to her on social media.
Dr. Oputa was one of the absolute best people that I’ve ever met and learned from. A blessing to my family personally and to the community at-large. Her presence will be sorely missed. Rest well my friend ❤️ https://t.co/M9KrAwUIFA
— JePahl White (@JePahl_White) September 18, 2023
R.I.P. Dr. Francine Oputa, one of the many wonderful professors at Fresno State that made a positive impact on students like myself. 🙏🏼 https://t.co/rRnb4WruKz
— Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana (she/ella) (@lizbethdsantana) September 17, 2023
Her husband, Dr. Henry I. Oputa, lifted up his wife in prayer.
The time and location of services have not yet been set but will be provided on the forevermissed.com website. The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to The Way Ministries John 14:6.