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Colin Powell: US leaders honor late secretary of state

November 6, 2021

US leaders paid tribute to Colin Powell, the country's first Black secretary of state, at a funeral service in Washington. The 84-year-old died in mid-October from COVID-19 complications.

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Sitting in the front row, President Joe Biden paid tribute to Powell alongside former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Image: Evan Vucci/AP/picture alliance

Colin Powell was honored this Friday by family and various US dignitaries at the Washington National Cathedral.

Among those present were President Joe Biden, former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as former secretaries of state James Baker, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton.

Not in attendance were former President Bill Clinton, who is recovering from a severe infection, and former President Donald Trump, who disparaged Powell after his death over his role in the US invasion of Iraq. Powell had also been critical of Trump.

'A figure who almost transcended time'

The 84-year-old retired general died on October 18 from complications from COVID-19. Although he had been vaccinated, he had been weakened by cancer and showed early signs of Parkinson's disease.

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell, a veteran US statesman, was honored for his years of public serviceImage: Thos Robinson/Getty Images

"The example of Colin Powell does not call on us to emulate his resume, which is too formidable for mere mortals," said Michael Powell, praising his father. "It is to emulate his character and his example as a human being."

Albright, who served as secretary of state before Powell described him as "a figure who almost transcended time," and went on to praise his "honesty, dignity, loyalty and an unshakable commitment to his calling and word."

Who was Colin Powell?

After starting his military career in 1958, Powell served in two tours in Vietnam in the 1960s. He worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and then became the senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1983.

Former President George W. Bush wears a mask as he hugs Alma Powell, the wife of former Secretary of State Colin Powell
Powell served as secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, seen here hugging Powell's wife, Alma PowellImage: Evan Vucci/AP/picture alliance

A son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell became the first Black national security advisor under President Ronald Reagan. He also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

He was secretary of state under President George W. Bush from January 2001 through January 2005.

He is also known for a 2003 speech to the UN Security Council where he claimed the United States had evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This served as one of the main arguments in favor of the US invasion of Iraq, but was later found to be inaccurate.

sdi/msh  (AFP, AP)