Hundreds of masked mourners — including President Biden and former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush — gathered at Washington National Cathedral on Friday to pay their respects to Gen. Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state.
Powell died on Oct. 18 of complications from COVID-19. He was 84. Powell’s family said he had been vaccinated but that his immune system had been compromised by multiple myeloma, a blood cancer for which he had been undergoing treatment.
Madeleine Albright, who preceded Powell as secretary of state; Richard Armitage, who was Powell’s deputy secretary of state; and Powell’s son, Michael, delivered the eulogies.
“On policy, the general and I didn’t always reach the same conclusions,” Albright said. “And in fact he would later recount that one of my comments almost gave him an aneurysm. But over the past quarter century we also became very close friends.
“The reason is, that beneath that glossy exterior of warrior statesman was one of the gentlest and most decent people any of us will ever meet,” she continued. “As I grew to know him, I came to view Colin Powell as a figure who almost transcended time, for his virtues were Homeric: honesty, dignity, loyalty and an unshakable commitment to his calling and word.
“He was also guided by conscience that unlike many never slept,” Albright added. “He made pragmatism charismatic.”
Armitage recalled Powell’s “sense of humor, his insatiable curiosity and his comfort in his own skin.”
“This is a celebration of a life,” Armitage said.
“Colin Powell was a great leader because he was a great follower,” Michael Powell said as his sisters and mother, Alma, looked on. “He knew you could not ask your troops to do anything you were unwilling to do yourself.
“His zest for life was derived by his endless passion for people. He was genuinely interested in everyone he met,” Michael Powell continued. “He loved a hot dog vendor, a bank teller, a janitor and a student as much as any world leader.”
Biden, Obama and Bush sat in the front row with their spouses alongside former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Former President Bill Clinton, who was recently hospitalized with an infection, did not attend, nor did former President Donald Trump, who Powell had sharply criticized.
As mourners arrived, the United States Army Brass Quintet played instrumental versions of some of Powell’s favorite songs, including Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”
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