Colin Powell remembered as a trailblazer who broke racial barriers following death at age 84

Colin Powell was the first African American to serve as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and secretary of state.
Colin Powell remembered as a trailblazer who broke racial barriers following death at age 84

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, discussing the diplomatic aspects of the previous week's terrorist attacks. Picture: AP Photo/Hillery Smith Garrison, File

Colin Powell, the former US Joint Chiefs chairman and US secretary of state, has died from Covid-19 complications at the age of 84, his family has said.

In an announcement on social media, the family said: "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."

"We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American," they said

In the post, his family noted that he was full vaccinated against the coronavirus.

"We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment," they added.

"We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American."

According to reports after his passing, Powell was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that hurts the body’s ability to fight infections.

He is survived by his wife, Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, whom he married in 1962, as well as three children.

Tributes

US President Joe Biden led the tributes from politicians and military leaders.

"Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation's strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity...

"From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation's policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to democratic values that make our country strong.

"Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else - in uniform and out - and it earned him the universal respect of the American people.

"Having repeatedly broken racial barriers, blazing a trail for others to follow in federal government service, Colin was committed throughout his life to investing in the next generation of leadership."

Former President Barack Obama said Powell was an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot.

"He was at the center of some of the most consequential events of our lifetimes.... And although he'd be the first to acknowledge that he didn't get every call right, his actions reflected what he believed was best for America and the people he served," said Mr Obama.

Former President Barack Obama said Powell was an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Former President Barack Obama said Powell was an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

"Along the way, General Powell helped a generation of young people set their sights higher. He never denied the role that race played in his own life and in our society more broadly.

"But he also refused to accept that race would limit his dreams, and through his steady and principled leadership, helped pave the way for so many who would follow."

Former President Jimmy Carter praised Powell for his courage and integrity adding that he is an inspiration for generations to come while Bill Clinton said he "lived the promise of America".

Former US president George W Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Mr Powell’s death.

 “He was such a favourite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- twice,” Bush said. 

“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.”

Former President George W Bush smiles as he introduces retired Gen. Colin Powell, left, as his nominee to be secretary of state during a ceremony in Crawford, Texas. Picture: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Former President George W Bush smiles as he introduces retired Gen. Colin Powell, left, as his nominee to be secretary of state during a ceremony in Crawford, Texas. Picture: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said the American statesman was a “towering figure” who “still had so much to give”.

Mr Blair, who led the UK into the 2003 war, said: “Colin was a towering figure in American military and political leadership over many years, someone of immense capability and integrity, a hugely likeable and warm personality and a great companion, with a lovely and self-deprecating sense of humour.

“He was wonderful to work with, he inspired loyalty and respect and was one of those leaders who always treated those under them with kindness and concern.

“His life stands as a testament not only to dedicated public service but also a strong belief in willingness to work across partisan division in the interests of his country.”

Long career of public service

Born April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York, Colin Powell was a veteran of the war in Vietnam where he served two tours of duty, from 1962 to 1963 and again in 1968 to 69 where he was involved in the investigation of the My Lai massacre.

After 35 years of military service, Powell retired from the U.S. Army as a four-star general.

In 1987 he would become national security adviser to then-president Ronald Regan during the end of his term in office in 1989, becoming the first African American to hold the position.

He later went on to become the youngest and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the presidency of both George HW Bush and Bill Clinton from 1989-93.

As chairman, he oversaw America’s Desert Storm operations during the Persian Gulf war.

In 2001, Powell was sworn in as George W Bushes' secretary of state, becoming the first Black man to hold the key position, and was a key figure in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"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."

His reputation also suffered a painful setback when, in 2003, Powell went before the UN Security Council and made the case for the war against Iraq.

He cited faulty information claiming Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed away weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq’s claims that it had not represented “a web of lies”, he told the world body.

Powell admitted later that the presentation was rife with inaccuracies and twisted intelligence provided by others in the Bush administration and represented "a blot" that will "always be a part of my record".

A moderate Republican and a pragmatist, Powell considered a bid to become the first Black president in 1996 but his wife Alma's worries about his safety helped him decide otherwise.

However, since 2008, he has endorsed Democrats for the presidency, twice backing Barack Obama, and then Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Mr Powell earned a number of civilian honours, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- twice from Bush Sr and Clinton.

 - Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters

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