Colin Powell remembered as a leader, father and friend at funeral

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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell‘s friends and loved ones honored the life of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during a funeral service Friday at Washington’s National Cathedral. Powell, who was battling a rare blood cancer, died last month at 84 from complications related to COVID-19.

During the invitation-only service, Powell’s son Michael Powell said the example of his father wasn’t to emulate his resume, which he described as “too formidable for mere mortals,” but to emulate his character.

“We can strive to do that,” Michael Powell said. “We can choose to be good.”

Two of his father’s friends, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Richard Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state under Powell, also delivered tributes for the former four-star general.

“My heart aches because we have lost a friend and our nation one of its finest and most loyal soldiers,” Albright said, “yet even as we contemplate the magnitude of our loss we can almost hear a familiar voice asking us, no, commanding us, to stop feeling sad, to turn our gaze once again from the past to the future and to get on with the nation’s business while making the absolute most of our own days on earth, one step at a time.”

Armitage recalled asking Powell the most important lesson he learned in the Army. Armitage said it was a general order for a sentry to take charge of their post until they’re relieved.

“In his interpretation, that didn’t mean you stood at the PX, which was warm, a lot of friendly faces going by,” Armitage said. “Yeah, you did that, that was part of your duty, but how about the motor pool, and how about the repair shops? They’re part of your duty too. You don’t get to pick and choose what you like better.”

Armitage said Powell would extend that to people.

“We’re all human – some people we like better than others – but if you’re in charge, you can’t show it,” Armitage said. “And Colin would always end that comment by saying, ‘We all need to treat everyone with a little bit more kindness when we think they deserve because we don’t know what’s going on in their lives.'”

President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush attended the service. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also there, but former President Bill Clinton, who was hospitalized last month for a non-COVID-related infection, didn’t attend on the advice of his doctors, an aide told CBS News.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden look on as the casket of former Secretary of State Colin Powell is carried out after a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., November 5, 2021.
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden look on as the casket of former Secretary of State Colin Powell is carried out after a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., November 5, 2021. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

Following news of Powell’s death on October 18, Mr. Biden called him “a dear friend and a patriot,” a great military leader and “a man of overwhelming decency.” Mr. Obama said Powell was “an example of what America – and Americans – can and should be if we wish to remain the last, best hope of earth.” Mr. Bush said Powell was “a great public servant” who was “highly respected at home and abroad.” Mr. Clinton said Powell “lived the promise of America.”

Powell served in the Army for 35 years, rising to the rank of four-star general. He was secretary of state under Mr. Bush, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and Mr. Clinton, and national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan. Powell was the first Black person to serve in each of those positions.

In October, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Powell “one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed” as well as a “tremendous personal friend and mentor.”

On CBSN on Friday, retired Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin, a deputy undersecretary at the Defense Department during the George W. Bush administration, recalled his experience serving as a liaison to Powell during the Gulf War.

“I found the guy to be amazingly bright but also a person who expected that, when you came to brief him, you knew the answers to the questions he was going to ask,” Boykin said, “and if you didn’t, he would let you know very quickly that the next time you had better be better prepared, and I sadly made that mistake one time and learned quite a lesson as a young colonel.”

Fin Gómez contributed reporting.

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