US President Joe Biden has paid tribute to former US secretary of state Colin Powell following his death, saying he “could drive his Corvette Stingray like nobody’s business”.
The 84-year-old died following complications from COVID-19, his family said in a statement today.
Figures from across the political spectrum have paid their tributes to the first black US secretary of state and top military officer following the news.
US President Joe Biden said he and his wife Jill were “deeply saddened” by the passing of their “dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honour and dignity”.
“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all,” Mr Biden said.
“Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity.”
He added that Mr Powell had repeatedly “broken racial barriers” and was “committed to investing in the next generation of leadership”, but above all, “Colin was my friend. Easy to share a laugh with. A trusted confidant in good and hard times.”
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The US leader continued: “He could drive his Corvette Stingray like nobody’s business – something I learned firsthand on the race track when I was vice president.
“And I am forever grateful for his support of my candidacy for president and for our shared battle for the soul of the nation. I will miss being able to call on his wisdom in the future.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “Powell’s career in the US military is legendary… By the
time he retired from the military he was arguably the most respected and celebrated American in uniform.”
John Major, who was the UK prime minister from 1990 to 1997, said he was “proud” to call Mr Powell a friend.
“Colin Powell was one of the finest men I ever met. And, perhaps, one of the finest Americans never to be president,” he said.
“Both in the military and in government he led with calm authority, and was an inspiration to all those who served alongside him.
“During the first Gulf War – as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff – we could not have wished for a stronger ally, nor one who commanded such affection and respect from our own armed forces. Throughout his long and exceptional career, Colin served with honour and distinction. He was a true public servant, who I was proud to call a friend.”
Mr Powell served under George H W Bush through the Iraq War and had also overseen the US invasion of Panama in 1989.
He was then appointed secretary of state under Mr Bush’s son, George W Bush, who embarked on the Iraq War in 2003.
In a statement, George W Bush said he and his wife Laura are “deeply saddened” by Mr Powell’s death.
“He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience.
“He was national security adviser under President Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and secretary of state during my administration.”
Colin Powell: Former US secretary of state dies following COVID complications, says family
Mr Bush added: “He was such a favourite 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. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Tony Blair, who was UK prime minister during the Iraq War, described Mr Powell as a “towering figure in American military and political leadership over many years”.
“He was wonderful to work with, he inspired loyalty and respect and was one of those leaders who always treated those under them with kindness and concern,” Mr Blair said.
“His life stands as a testament not only to dedicated public service but also a strong belief in willingness to work across partisan division in the interests of his country. I am so sorry to hear the news of his death.”
Prominent figures in the African-American community also paid tribute to him.
Lloyd Austin, who is the first African American to become US defence secretary, said: “The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed.
Analysis by Mark Stone, US Correspondent
Internationally, it is a speech in the UN chamber on 5th February 2003 for which Colin Powell will be remembered.
It was a passionate case for the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. But it was a case that history would judge to be flawed.
The irony is that he was the measured member of administration which was determined to remove Saddam Hussein.
Colin Powell was the moderate in an administration of hawks led by George W Bush. He had pushed President Bush to take any case against Saddam to the UN and yet he ended up being the fall guy for intelligence which proved to be faulty.
He would later describe his insistence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction as ‘a blot’ on his career.
But beyond that difficult moment, Colin Powell is being remembered as a man of integrity, principle and service. He had the ear of four US presidents – Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.
After 35 years in the US Army where he rose to the top job with a pivotal and lauded role in the 1991 Gulf War, he switched to politics as the first black Secretary of State. He was touted as a potential presidential candidate a number of times, something he rejected because of what he claimed was ‘a lack of passion for politics’.
Self-deprecating and modest in character, he became an elder statesman of American politics. The fondness with which he is being remembered on both the left and right leaning US cable networks hints at his broad appeal and popularity. He had a willingness to work across partisan divides to bring people together.
Over the past few months he has voiced concerns over the polarisation of American politics. Just before last year’s presidential election, he announced he would not vote for Donald Trump. “I certainly cannot, in any way, support President Trump… he lies,” he said.
“Alma lost a great husband, and the family lost a tremendous father and I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me and I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great counsel.
“First African American chairman of the joint chiefs, first African American secretary of state – a man who was respected around the globe… quite frankly, it is not possible to replace a Colin Powell. We will miss him.”
Rev Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist, said on Twitter: “My condolences to the family of Colin Powell. Though we disagreed on many issues, I always respected him and was proud of his achievements. When he and I ran into each other and conversed, I always left feeling he was a sincere and committed man to what he believed in. RIP”.