Colin Powell, a United States war hero and the first Black Secretary of State, has died of COVID-19 complications.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family said in a statement posted to social media on Monday.
The 84-year-old retired four-star general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who served four presidents made his reputation as a man of honour distant from the political fray, an asset in the corridors of power.
Powell was a distinguished and trailblazing professional soldier whose career took him from combat duty in Vietnam to becoming the first Black National Security Adviser during the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the youngest and first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.
His national popularity soared in the aftermath of the US-led coalition victory during the Gulf War, and for a time in the mid-90s, he was considered a leading contender to become the first Black President of the United States. But his reputation would be forever stained when, as George W. Bush’s first secretary of State, he pushed faulty intelligence before the United Nations to advocate for the Iraq War, which he would later call a “blot” on his record.
Bush said in a statement Monday that Powell was “a great public servant” who was “such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice.
“He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend,” Bush said.
Though Powell never mounted a White House bid, when he was sworn in as Bush’s Secretary of State in 2001, he became the highest-ranking Black public official to date in the country, standing fourth in the presidential line of succession.
“I think it shows to the world what is possible in this country. 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 approva,” Powell said of his history-making nomination during his Senate confirmation hearing
Later in his public life, Powell would grow disillusioned with the Republican Party’s rightward lurch and would use his political capital to help elect Democrats to the White House, most notably Barack Obama, the first Black President whom Powell endorsed in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign.
The announcement was seen as a significant boost for Obama’s candidacy due to Powell’s widespread popular appeal and stature as one of the most prominent and successful Black Americans in public life.
Powell is survived by his wife, Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, whom he married in 1962, as well as three children.