Retired Gen. Colin Powell was remembered Friday as a statesman and trailblazing warrior in an invitation-only funeral service at Washington’s National Cathedral attended by presidents, diplomats and military leaders.
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden were joined by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and former first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush in paying tribute to the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also attended the service.
Mr. Powell died on Oct. 18 at age 84 from complications of COVID-19. He was fully vaccinated, but his immune system was compromised by cancer treatments, his spokesperson said.
Eulogies were delivered by his son, Michael Powell, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Richard Armitage, who served as Mr. Powell‘s deputy at the State Department.
“Colin Powell was a great lion with a big heart,” said Michael Powell, his voice breaking. “We will miss him terribly.”
The former head of the Federal Communications Commission under Mr. Bush, Michael Powell recalled having a tough time in the job and calling his father to ask if he should quit.
“Powells never quit,” Mr. Powell told his son. “People will long forget the issues you’re dealing with. They will never forget how you conduct yourself.”
Mrs. Albright recalled meeting Mr. Powell for the first time in1993, when she said he was “the hero of the western world” in the wake of Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East.
“Beneath that glossy exterior of warrior-statesman was one of the gentlest and most decent people any of us will ever meet,” she said. “Somehow, through the strength of his personality, he made pragmatism charismatic.”
She told Mr. Powell‘s widow, Alma, “My heart aches, because we have lost a friend and our nation one of its finest and most loyal soldiers.”
Mr. Armitage, a friend of Mr. Powell‘s for 40 years, said Mr. Powell had a sense of humor, insatiable curiosity and “comfort in his own skin.”
He recalled Sweden’s foreign minister once presented Mr. Powell with a compact-disc collection of ABBA’s music (Mr. Powell was an avid fan). Mr. Armitage said Mr. Powell knelt before the foreign minister in gratitude and sang “Mama Mia” to her.
Rev. Randolph Hollerith said Mr. Powell “lived a life of service, and he was a great blessing to all who knew him.”
Mr. Powell served in Republican administrations, but he endorsed the past four Democratic candidates for president. He had said he voted for Mr. Biden last year.
In 1991, his oversight of the U.S.-led forces’ rapid destruction of the Iraqi army in Kuwait brought him to the attention of average Americans.
He encountered controversy under President George W. Bush in 2003 for his role in supporting the Iraq War and questions about the intelligence used to justify it. His tenure as Secretary of State was marred by his address to the U.N. Security Council, in which he cited faulty information to claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed weapons of mass destruction.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump did not attend. Mr. Clinton was hospitalized recently, and Mr. Trump had clashed with Mr. Powell.