The Heart-Wrenching Death Of Colin Powell

On October 18, 2021, the world said goodbye to U.S. general, statesman, public figure, and young person's mentor, Colin Powell. He was 84. 

His family announced his death via Facebook: "General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19. He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather, and a great American."

Early tributes started to roll in on social media shortly after the announcement. For example, former member of Georgia House of Representatives Stacey Abrams noted on Twitter, "Godspeed to Secretary Colin Powell who led with integrity, admitted fallibility and defended democracy. Deepest condolences to his loved ones and friends."

A history-shaping gentleman of military and politics

Colin Powell is easily one of the most recognizable historical figures in recent U.S. military and diplomatic history. As the U.S. State Department website says, his 35-year Army career encompassed two tours in Vietnam, postings in West Germany and South Korea, appointments to the role of deputy national security adviser in 1987 and national security adviser from 1988 to 1989, and promotion to the rank of not only general under President George H.W. Bush, but chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired in 1993, but was unanimously voted into the position of Secretary of State in 2000, where he served until 2004. He was not only the youngest person to be appointed to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at age 52, per the U.S. Army website, but the first Black American to be appointed secretary of state.

Powell was a general during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when he oversaw the 43-day Operation Desert Storm against Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces following their invasion of neighboring Kuwait. As a military strategist, he advocated what would be known as the "Powell Doctrine," per History, which recommended the use of "overwhelming force to maximize success and minimize casualties." At the same time, he often advocated the strengthening of diplomatic ties rather than jumping directly to outright force. 

Powell was also the founder of America's Promise Alliance, a nongovernmental organization that provides young people with community-based, civic tools for lifelong success.

A decorated military career that started in the ROTC

Colin Luther Powell was born in 1937 in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrants. Even though his parents stressed "the importance of education and personal achievement," as Achievement says, he grew up "without having formed any definite ambition or direction in life." While studying geology at City College of New York, he got involved with the ROTC and more or less found his calling. As the Joint Chiefs of Staff website puts it, Powell was "attracted by the panache of the Pershing Rifles drill team," and quickly became not only ROTC company commander but was promoted to the rank of cadet colonel. He graduated a "distinguished military graduate" with a BS in Geology and entered the Army in 1958 with a commission of second lieutenant.

Powell served in a host of roles and positions over the following decades. As one of 16,000 military advisers sent to Vietnam in 1962, he was wounded by a horrific punji-stick booby trap and received a Purple Heart. During a second tour in Vietnam in 1968-69, he was injured in a helicopter crash and received a Bronze Heart. While in the rank of major, he earned an MBA at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and won a White House Fellowship. There, he was assigned to the Office of Management and Budget in the Nixon administration, which began his politically leaning career trajectory. All in all, Powell received 11 military decorations, including the Legion of Merit.

Active in education and business throughout his late life

Colin Powell kept extremely busy and active throughout his late life. As PBS notes, he was engaged with his alma mater, the City College of New York, as chair of the Board of Visitors of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, which was inaugurated in 2013. He was also a strategic adviser at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, and served on the board of directors of Bloom Energy, an alternative energy company, and Powell wasn't merely the subject of numerous books, he wrote, as well, including "My American Journey" in 1995, an autobiography, and "It Worked for Me" in 2013, a memoir-like retrospective. 

Powell was a big believer in providing young people with structured lives and environments to help bring out the best in them. In a 2012 TED Talk, Powell discussed how, in his multiple visits to schools to speak with children, he utilized lessons from his time in the military to bring forth a more mature, focused attitude from students. He spoke of the necessity of strengthening the U.S. school system not through window dressings such as "more computers," but through a reestablishment of a disciplined classroom environment.

In his personal life, Powell was married to his wife, Alma Vivian Johnson, since 1962. They had three children: Michael, Linda, and Annemarie.