General Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state and a trailblazing figure in Washington, died of complications from COVID-19 on Monday, according to his family. He was 84.
“We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment,” the statement read. “We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”
Powell, who was wounded in Vietnam, served as national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H. W. Bush and secretary of state under President George W. Bush, breaking the color barrier each time.
“I think it shows to the world what is possible in this country,” Powell said of his Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state in 2001. “It shows to the world that: Follow our model, and over a period of time from our beginning, if you believe in the values that espouse, you can see things as miraculous as me sitting before you.”
Despite serving under three Republican presidents, Powell became disillusioned with the direction of the GOP later in his life.
In 2008, he broke with the Republican Party and endorsed Democrat Barack Obama, who would become the nation’s first Black president.
Powell also endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, who he called a “national disgrace and an international pariah.”
Following the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection that was incited by Trump, Powell told CNN that he didn’t consider himself a Republican.
“I can no longer call myself a fellow Republican,” he said. “I’m not a fellow of anything right now.”
Despite his national popularity, Powell will forever be associated with his role in pushing faulty intelligence under President George W. Bush to make the case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Powell later admitted that it represented “a blot” that will “always be a part of my record.”
Powell is survived by his wife, Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, whom he married in 1962, as well as three children.
Reactions pour in
In a statement, George W. Bush said he was “deeply saddened” by news of Powell’s death.
“He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam,” Bush said in a statement. “Many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He was national security adviser under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and secretary of state during my administration.
“He was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice,” Bush continued. “He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the nation’s first Black defense secretary, reflected on Powell’s death.
“The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,” Austin said. “Alma lost a great husband and the family lost a tremendous father. I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor … I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.”
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