Colin Powell, the trailblazing soldier and statesman, has died from Covid complications at the age of 84. Powell was the first Black US secretary of state whose leadership in several Republican administrations has helped shape American foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st.
“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” the Powell family wrote on Facebook, noting he was fully vaccinated.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” they said.
The family thanked the staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where Powell was receiving care.
He had multiple myeloma, according to NBC News. It is a type of blood cancer that hurts the body’s ability to fight infections.
Multiple myeloma is twice as common—and twice as deadly—in African Americans than in Caucasian Americans. Additionally, the incidence of conditions associated with the development of myeloma (including monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance or MGUS) is high in African Americans.
Powell also is a cancer survivor.
“When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 66, I wasn’t terribly surprised or shocked,” former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Powell said. “For the five years before that, I had been going for very regular checkups and my PSA was always high. It floated up and down. PSA alone doesn’t indicate cancer, it just says something is going on.”
Thankfully, Powell had the knowledge he needed to deal with this challenge, in addition to the understanding that cancer doesn’t care about reputation. He eventually overcame that before being diagnosed with……multiple myeloma.
Born Colin Luther Powell in New York to Jamaican immigrants, Gen. Powell rose rapidly through the Army to become the youngest and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs. His climb was helped by a string of jobs as military assistant to high-level government officials and a stint as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan. Charming, eloquent and skilled at managing, he had a knack for exuding authority while also putting others at ease.
Powell first joined the Reagan administration in 1987 as national security adviser, becoming the first Black individual to serve in the role.
He later transitioned to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, a position he held for four years under former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton.
Gen. Powell was able to claim some victories early on. In his first year as secretary, he won the release from China of the crew of a U.S. surveillance plane that had made an emergency landing after colliding with a Chinese plane over the South China Sea, killing a Chinese pilot. He averted the pullout of U.S. troops from NATO peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, and he facilitated the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty without provoking a harsh Russian backlash.
Calls for Powell to wage a presidential bid ramped up ahead of the 1996 election following the U.S.-led coalition’s win in the Gulf War. He ultimately passed on a campaign of his own, concluding that he did not have a “passion” for elected politics.
“Such a life requires a calling that I do not yet hear,” Powell told reporters in 1995. “And for me to pretend otherwise would not be honest to myself, it would not be honest to the American people.”
The four-star general reentered the political sphere in 2001, when he was tapped by George W. Bush to serve as secretary of State, breaking another barrier and becoming the first Black American to serve in the role.
He served in the post until 2005.
During Trump’s tumultuous term in office, Gen. Powell became increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the president, who threatened and encouraged the use of force against racial-justice activists in 2020. He scorched Trump’s ethics and accused other Republicans of accommodating or acquiescing to the president’s divisiveness out of political self-interest.
“The one word I have to use with respect to what he’s been doing for the last several years is the word I would never have used before, never would have used with any of the four presidents I worked for: He lies,” Gen. Powell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “He lies about things, and he gets away with it because people will not hold him accountable.”
“I think it shows to the world what is possible in this country,” Powell said of his history-making nomination during his Senate confirmation hearing. “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 to receive your approval.”
Later in his public life, Powell would grow disillusioned with the Republican Party’s rightward lurch and would use his political capital to help elect Democrats to the White House, most notably Barack Obama, the first Black president whom Powell endorsed in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign.
“He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” former President George Bush said. “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.”
Powell leaves his three children and his lovely wife Alma of nearly 60 years of marriage.
The pair had met on a blind date in Boston, where Alma, who attended Fisk University and did her graduate work at Emerson College, worked as a speech pathologist. In that same year they married on August 25th 1962, Colin and Alma married at First Congregational Church in the Smithfield community of Birmingham.
Mrs. Powell’s grandfather was born into slavery, and her grandmother was born just after slavery ended. Against enormous odds, both earned college degrees — then saw their five children through college, too.
In the process of finding love, Colin and Alma altered the course of American History.
Thank you for your service, Gen. Powell.