President Biden and former President Barack Obama were among the many public figures who paid tribute to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the four-star general who served Democratic and Republican presidents and who died Monday of COVID-19 complications at the age of 84.
“Jill and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity, General Colin Powell,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “As a Senator, I worked closely with him when he served as National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as Secretary of State. Over our many years working together – even in disagreement – Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect.”
Biden said Powell “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 the democratic values that make our country strong.”
The president’s words were echoed by Obama, who received a key endorsement from Powell during the 2008 presidential election.
“General Powell was an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot,” Obama said in a separate statement. “Everyone who worked with General Powell appreciated his clarity of thought, insistence on seeing all sides, and ability to execute. 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.”
Obama added that on a personal level, he was “deeply appreciative that someone like General Powell, who had been associated with Republican administrations in the past, was willing to endorse me in 2008. But what impressed me even more was how he did it. At a time when conspiracy theories were swirling, with some questioning my faith, General Powell took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could.”
Obama then quoted Powell in 2008 telling reporters that while the then-Democratic senator wasn’t a Muslim, there was nothing wrong with adhering to the Islamic faith in America.
“That’s who Colin Powell was,” Obama said. “He understood what was best in this country and tried to bring his own life, career and public statements in line with that ideal.
One local combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Kurt J. Power, a trustee of the Chelsea Soldiers Home, tweeted out a photo of Powell Monday, along with a succinct message.
“Rest Easy Warrior!” Power tweeted.
Many other elected officials offered tributes via social media and in prepared statements.
“As a Black man just trying to figure out the world, Colin Powell was an inspiration,” tweeted New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman. “He was from NYC, went to City College, and rose to the highest ranks of our nation. Sending love, strength and prayer to the family and friends of Secretary Powell. Rest in power sir.”
Marty Meehan, the UMass president and former congressman who worked with Powell in Washington, also offered condolences.
“I am saddened to learn of the passing of former U.S. Secretary of State General Colin Powell. General Powell’s trailblazing career was marked by many firsts – the first Black national security advisor; the youngest and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the first Black Secretary of State,” Meehan said in a statement. “I had the honor of working with General Powell when I served on the House Armed Services Committee, and I can attest to his commitment to public service, his loyalty to those he served and led, and his unyielding love for this country.”
Even after retiring, Meehan said, Powell “remained an influential and positive force in our national conversation, forcefully speaking out against some of the most destructive forces in today’s politics. Today, my thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, colleagues, and to all of those who were fortunate enough to work with him over his distinguished career.”
Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, the former Boston mayor, said via Twitter that Powell was a true patriot.
“General Powell served our nation with honor and patriotism,” Walsh tweeted. “He broke barriers, demonstrated leadership and inspired many throughout his career. My thoughts are with his wife Alma, their children and his loved ones today.”
Dr. Asish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, praised Powell Monday as a standout leader in the annals of American history.
“Colin Powell was an extraordinary American — a soldier, a diplomat, and a great leader,” Jha tweeted. “COVID has robbed us of so much. Our nation’s prayers are with his family today.”
Harvard Kennedy School professor Nicholas Burns, a decorated diplomat, said Monday that the general was widely respected and admired among colleagues.
“General Colin Powell was one of our greatest public servants,” Burns tweeted. “A courageous and inspirational leader for both the State Department and the military. Admired by all who worked for him. A true Patriot.”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island also lauded Powell’s legacy on Monday.
“After a distinguished career of service, General Powell’s final legacy was to put country over party at a time when it was difficult to do so,” Whitehouse tweeted. “May he rest in peace.”
Whitehouse’s fellow Rhode Island Senator, Jack Reed, also marked Powell’s passing in a statement.
“Colin Powell was the epitome of selfless service, courageous leadership, and uncompromising integrity,” Reed said. “He will be remembered as one of our nation’s very finest military and diplomatic leaders, and I am deeply saddened to learn of his loss.”
Reed said a “distinct honor of my life was the opportunity to work with and learn from Colin Powell. He committed himself wholly to the well-being of the United States and advised generations of presidents, diplomats, military leaders, and lawmakers.”
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell rose to the rank of four-star general and in 1989 became the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, he oversaw the US invasion of Panama and later the invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991.
Powell rose to national prominence under Republican presidents and considered a presidential bid of his own, but ultimately moved away from the party. He endorsed Democrats in the last four presidential elections, starting with former President Barack Obama. He emerged as a vocal Donald Trump critic in recent years, describing Trump as “a national disgrace” who should have been removed from office through impeachment. Following the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, Powell said he no longer considers himself a Republican.
“Colin Powell, a towering figure to me,” tweeted Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, who represents the Virgin Islands. “Caribbean American, Native New Yorker, Statesman, Soldier, Diplomat, humble, hardworking, thoughtful, accountable. Loved his family his country. God’s grace to his loved ones. Rest In Peace.”
Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and leading voting rights advocate, also tweeted out a poignant remembrance.
“Godspeed to Secretary Colin Powell who led with integrity, admitted fallibility and defended democracy. Deepest condolences to his loved ones and friends,” Abrams wrote.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu expressed condolences in a statement and said Powell’s dedication to service provided a model for all Americans.
“Today we lost an individual who embodied the traits of loyalty, strength, and a deep commitment to public service,” Sununu said. “Colin Powell devoted himself to the betterment of this country and of every American in all that he did. His legacy and character is one we must remember, and one that we should each seek to emulate in all that we do.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.