Colin Powell Honored at Funeral Attended by Presidents Biden, Obama and Bush, First Ladies and His Family

Dignitaries from across the worlds of politics, diplomacy and military service paid tribute to the nation's first Black secretary of state and chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff at the Washington National Cathedral

Gen. Colin Powell was honored Friday during a private funeral at the Washington National Cathedral, where the family of the nation's first Black secretary of state was joined by military and political leaders, including President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden.

Powell's wife of 58 years, Alma Powell, and children Linda Powell, Annemarie Powell Lyons and Michael Powell were also joined by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Sec. Hillary Clinton, who sat front row at the service to pay tribute to the general, who died Oct. 18 from complications of COVID-19 at 84.

Though Powell's family said at the time of his death that he was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it's been widely reported that he had Parkinson's and had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that suppresses the immune system.

Colin Powell funeral

Powell's son Michael, his daughter Annemarie, his Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served in President Bill Clinton's administration, all spoke during the funeral for the admired four-star general who broke barriers as the first Black secretary of state and 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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After acknowledging the Powell family and thanking the VIPs in the front row across from them in the church, Armitage quoted Eleanor Roosevelt in his tribute.

"If, at the end, one can say this man used to the limit the powers that God granted him, he wasworthy of the love and respect and of the sacrifices of many people made in order that he might achieve what he deemed to be his task, then that life has been lived well and there are no regrets," he said. "Does that sound like somebody that you know? It seems like the husband, the father, the grandfather of the Powell family."

Colin Powell funeral
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The color guard flew an American flag and the flag of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the service, which was led by Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry.

Mourners heard music by a choir and an organ player throughout the event, including the patriotic song "American the Beautiful," the stirring hymn "Amazing Grace" and "Dancing Queen" by Powell favorite ABBA.

"My heart is sad, for I have lost a friend," Albright said from the podium, as she began to share memories of her a friendship and service with Powell.

"In 1993 when I began serving as America's ambassador to the U.N., Gen. Colin Powell was already in his final months as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At White House meetings, I came equipped with a yellow pad. He brought a laser pointer and an array of multicolored slides. I wore a pin. He wore a lot of medals. I was a mere mortal female civilian. In the wake of Operation Desert Storm, he was the hero of the Western World," she said.

Colin Powell funeral
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"He and I were shaped by different experiences and had different ideas and represented different departments. But over the past quarter century we also became very close friends, an experience I know that I have in common with many of you," she continued. "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."

Colin Powell funeral
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The general's son Michael spoke fondly of growing up in the Powell family in comments that we both poignant and humorous. "My sisters and I were raised under the stars, the stars of the storied general we eulogize today," he said. "Our family life was unregimented. No morning revelry of marching drills. It was a warm and joyous and loving home anchored by our strong and graceful mother Alma. Our parents taught us right. They taught us wrong. And they taught us to take responsibility for our actions and never to blame others. Disappointing them was the worst punishment we could imagine."

Colin Powell funeral

"My father is frequently remembered as a problem solver," he continued. "While his solutions to world problems may have been elegant, his fixes around the house were a bit more kludgy. He believed he could cheaply fix anything with a little duct tape, some wire and a can of spray paint. He'd even propose a solution for a non-existent problem just to solve his curiously about how something worked."

Coronavirus safety protocols, including the use of masks, were in place for Friday's service at the Washington National Cathedral, where state funerals for four presidents — Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush — have been held. The church has also hosted prayer services for newly sworn-in presidents following their inaugurations.

Colin Powell funeral
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In 1989, Powell was promoted to a four-star general and became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush, putting him on the national stage and in charge of the 1990 Gulf War. He continued his role as chairman into the Clinton Administration.

Powell became the 65th Secretary of State in January 2001, serving in that role for the second Bush Administration until January 2005. His tenure at State become controversial due in part to his role in the Iraq War and the U.S. effort to oust Saddam Hussein.

Speaking to the United Nations in a 2003 speech, Powell laid out the Bush administration's rationale for the invasion of Iraq, saying there was "no doubt" that Hussein had hidden chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. Intelligence would later confirm that such a weapons program was nonexistent. Speaking to Frontline in 2006, Powell later called that speech "a great intelligence failure."

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