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The funeral of Colin Powell

'A great lion with a big heart': Powell's son pays tribute to his dad
03:00

What we covered here

  • Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state, was honored at a funeral service held today at the Washington National Cathedral.
  • Powell died last month of Covid-19 complications amid a cancer battle. He was 84.
  • Military and political leaders, including President Biden and former Presidents Bush and Obama, attended the funeral.
  • Powell’s leadership in several Republican administrations helped shape American foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century.

Our live coverage has ended. Read the posts below to see moments of the service.

20 Posts

Key moments from today's tributes honoring Colin Powell

Colin Powell was remembered Friday as a patriotic statesman who served his country in peace and war, at a funeral service that was marked not only by its reverence for the former secretary of state but by a bipartisan attendance of former presidents and dignitaries who paid tribute to the late giant of Washington.

During today’s funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral, former colleagues, friends and family members remembered the life and legacy of the first Black secretary of state.

While much was made of his leadership and life of public service in tributes to Powell, friends and family shared personal anecdotes and mourned him as a family man and “a great lion with a big heart.”

“The example of Colin Powell does not call on us to emulate his resume, which is too formidable for mere mortals. It is to emulate his character and his example as a human being. We can strive to do that. We can choose to be good,” former FCC chair Michael Powell, Powell’s son, said in a moving tribute to his father.

“My father made a monumental difference. He lived, he lived well. I’ve heard it asked, ‘Are we still making his kind?’ I believe the answer to that question is up to us. To honor his legacy, I hope we do more than consign him to the history books. I hope we recommit ourselves to being a nation where we are still making his kind,” he said.

Richard Armitage, who shared a 40-year friendship with Powell and served for a time as Powell’s deputy secretary of state, recalled Powell’s “sense of humor, his insatiable curiosity and his comfort in his own skin.”

Madeleine Albright, Powell’s predecessor at the State Department, noted that despite their differences in background, she and Powell became 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,” Albright said.

The solemn service, which was closed to the public but broadcast on television, brought together leaders from both parties at Washington National Cathedral.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden were seated in the front pew, along with former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and former first ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. Former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice and current Secretary of State Antony Blinken were there, along with current Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley. Former President Bill Clinton, who was recently hospitalized with an infection, did not attend.

For more on Powell’s life and career, see the stories below:

Rev. Canon Kenworthy: Colin Powell "called us all to our better selves"

Rev. Canon Stuart A. Kenworthy, Canon of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, discussed the impact Colin Powell had on the lives of Americans, specifically the lives of young Black Americans.

“This man had a discernible gift to project gravitas, warmth and goodness which called us all to our better selves. To strive for the good and the just, to face fully and to duty and with integrity resolve in benevolence to carry it out,” he said in his homily.

The reverend shared a story a friend told him about the impact Powell had on his personal life and trajectory after he read his book “My American Journey.”

“Recently a dear friend Eric Motley, a younger African-American man who grew up as a young boy in Madison Park, Alabama, on land that had been ceded to the ancestors of slaves, shared this memory with me, ‘When I was in high school, my grandmother gave me a photo of general Powell adorned with a chest full of medals and prompting me, you need not look far for your own hero. I carried that photo all through school and have it to this day.’

He continued: “After reading general Powell’s book “My American journey” in college, Eric said, ‘For the first time in my life I found myself and all I wanted to be, and all these years later I still do my best to imitate the man himself, trying to make my life journey as good and honorable and centered on service. I have held a light to his life, and it has been a true affirmation of faith.’”

“I’ve often wondered how many young men an especially young black men were given that book accompanied by the same admonition, you need not look far for a hero,” the reverend added.

Powell's son: He was a "great leader because he was a great follower" and willing to do what he asked of others

Michael Powell, Colin Powell’s son, painted a picture of what his father was like at home, when he wasn’t making major decisions on the world stage. He called his father a “great lion with a big heart.”

“My sisters and I were raised under the stars, the stars of the storied general we eulogize today. Dad was famous for his 13 rules, but our family life was unregimented. No morning reveille or marching drills. It was a warm and joyous and loving home anchored by our strong and graceful mother Alma,” he said during his father’s funeral service held at the Washington National Cathedral.

“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 you could imagine. My father is frequently remembered as a problem-solver. While his solutions to world problems may have been elegant, his fixes around the house were a bit more kludge. He believed he could cheaply fix anything with a little duct tape, some wire and a can of spray paint. ”

Powell said his father had a “passion for people” and this was evident through his interactions with others.

“His zest for life derived from his endless passion for people. He was genuinely interested in everyone he met. He loved the hot dog vendor, a bank teller, a janitor and a student as much as any world leader,” he said.

He went on to reflect on the leadership of his father and the impact he had in the roles he served.

He continued further in his remarks: “The example of Colin Powell does not call on us to emulate his resume which is too formidable for mere mortals. It is to emulate his character and his example as a human being that we can strive to do that. We can choose to be good.”

“My father made a monumental difference. He lived, he lived well. I’ve heard it asked, ‘Are we still making his kind?’ I believe the answer to that question is up to us. To honor his legacy, I hope we do more than consign him to the history books. I hope we recommit ourselves to being a nation where we are still making his kind,” he added.

“For as he said in his autobiography his journey was an American journey. Colin Powell was a great lion with a big heart. We will miss him terribly,” Powell’s son said in closing.

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed reporting to this post. 

Madeleine Albright reflects on Powell's friendship and the impact he had on others

Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration and was Colin Powell’s predecessor, honored her friend by sharing some of the traits and characteristics she came to know throughout their friendship.

She noted that despite their differences in ideas or background, they were able to become close friends.

“On policy, the general and I didn’t always reach the same conclusions, and in fact he would later recount that one of my comments almost gave him an aneurysm,” she said. “Although we were the same age 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. 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 and loyalty and an unshakeable commitment to his calling and word.”

Albright said Powell would work to instill these traits in the soldiers in his command, his colleagues and those he met. The former secretary of state said Powell “relished the opportunity” to connect with other generations and lift them up.

“A first rate listener, and in government the ultimate team player, Colin was nevertheless always true to himself. He could not be moved by any threat or attempting promise to depart from what he felt was right,” she added. 

Albright mentioned some of the factors that helped shape Powell’s life and leadership.

“He had a code instilled by his immigrant parents, honed by army tradition and nurtured by more than half a century of marriage. He was also guided by conscience that unlike many, never slept,” she said. 

NOW: Funeral service begins at Washington National Cathedral 

Family members arrive at the funeral for former Secretary of State Colin Powell at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC on November 5, 2021.

Former presidents, dignitaries and friends of the late Gen. Colin Powell are gathering at Washington National Cathedral for the funeral service of the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Powell family was seated in the cathedral as “America the Beautiful” played.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden are in attendance, and are sitting next to former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.

Former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush are also seated in the same row.

Former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice and current Secretary of State Antony Blinken are there, along with current Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley.

The ceremony, which is closed to the public, will include tributes from Richard Armitage, who served for a time as Powell’s deputy secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration, and Powell’s son, Michael.

Colin Powell's casket is being brought into the Washington National Cathedral for funeral

The casket of Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state, is being brought into the Washington National Cathedral ahead of the start of the funeral service.

Powell’s wife Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, whom he married in 1962, was just escorted in.

Watch the moment:

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Bob Marley and ABBA: Prelude music was a nod to Powell's heritage and musical favorites

The musical selections for the funeral’s organ and brass prelude were a mix of patriotic songs, religious hymns, and popular music, including Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” a nod to Colin Powell’s Jamaican heritage, and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” as Colin Powell was a noted fan of the Swedish pop group.

CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux said she spoke to Powell’s longtime aide Peggy Cifrino, who told her a story about how Powell attended the premiere of the Broadway show “Mamma Mia!”

“The music played. He went — he got up out of his seat, went down the aisle, sashaying, dancing to ‘Dancing Queen,’” Malveaux said. “…Gen. Powell knew all the words to the songs.” 

“So he just really was a lot of fun, very eclectic taste in music, entertainment, and really very accessible to folks who knew him,” she added.

President Biden has arrived at the cathedral for Colin Powell's funeral service

President Biden’s motorcade has arrived at the Washington National Cathedral.

The Bidens are set to sit in the front row with former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as former first ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Condoleezza Rice and the current Secretary of State Antony Blinken are also in attendance, along with current Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley.

Former President Bill Clinton, who was recently hospitalized, is not in attendance for the memorial service.

The funeral is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET.

Colin Powell's funeral will start soon. Here's a look back at some key moments from his career.

Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state, will be honored soon in a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral. Powell was also the youngest person and first African-American to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Although he served in a Republican administration, later in his public life, he would grow disillusioned with the 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.

Here’s a look back at some key moments from his career as secretary of state and beyond:

  • Nov. 1987-Jan. 1989 - National security adviser to President Ronald Reagan.
  • 1989-1994 - Commander in chief of the Forces Command at Ft. McPherson, Georgia.
  • Oct. 1, 1989-Sept. 30, 1993 - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • Jan. 20, 2001- Is appointed and unanimously confirmed as secretary of state.
  • Jan. 26, 2001 - Is sworn in as the 65th secretary of state of the United States.
  • Feb. 5, 2003 - Powell addresses the United Nations Security Council to present the United States’ case against Iraq under UN Resolution 1441 regarding weapons of mass destruction.
  • Dec. 15, 2003 - Undergoes surgery for prostate cancer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was diagnosed with the disease earlier in the year.
  • Nov. 15, 2004 - The White House announces President Bush has accepted Powell’s letter of resignation dated Nov. 12. The letter states he will remain in office until his successor is confirmed.
  • Jan. 26, 2005 - Powell’s resignation becomes effective with the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice.
  • 2005 - Joins the California venture capital firm of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers as a “strategic limited partner.”
  • March 2006 - The National War College Foundation establishes the Colin Powell Chair for National Security, Leadership, Character and Ethics.
  • Summer 2007 - Begins to speak out against the Bush administration’s decision to go to war against Iraq, the increase in troop strength in Iraq and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
  • Jan. 20, 2009 - Is one of the honorary co-chairs of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Powell endorsed Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
  • Feb. 3, 2010 - Powell reverses his stance on gays and lesbians in the military; his opposition to homosexuals in the military helped lead to the original “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the 1990s.
  • 2012 - Publishes a second memoir, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” with Tony Koltz.
  • Oct. 7, 2018 - Powell, along with former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright makes a cameo appearance on the CBS show “Madam Secretary.”
  • June 1, 2019 - Along with his wife Alma, Powell receives the Lincoln Medal, an award given by Ford’s Theatre Society. The society celebrates those who embody the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln.
  • Jan. 10, 2021 - Following the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, Powell said he no longer considers himself a Republican.

Read more about Powell’s career here.

CNN’s Devan Cole contributed reporting to this post. 

CNN's Wolf Blitzer calls Powell's funeral "a rare moment of bipartisanship here in Washington"

Reporting from outside the Washington National Cathedral, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer described today’s funeral service in honor of Colin Powell as a “very poignant moment” that will put bipartisanship on display, as leaders from both parties gather to pay their respects.

President Biden will be attending the service as will former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, as well as former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Because the life, the remarkable life, of general and secretary Colin Powell was itself a bipartisan journey,” CNN’s John King said.

“You’re watching the Bushes in there, you’re watching the Clintons in there. The Obamas will be here. President Biden is on his way here. Members of Congress and administrations, Democratic and Republican, hugging, saying hello,” he added.

King continued: “That was one of the great strengths of Colin Powell. He listened. He respected, perhaps even more so with people who disagreed with him. He took the time to get to know why.”

“He put country first, America came first, not your political party,” he said.

Here's who is attending and speaking in today's service 

Gen. Colin Powell, the late former secretary of state and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, will be honored this morning at a private funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral.

Powell died on Oct. 18 from complications from Covid-19. He was 84.

Though he was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Powell, who had multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s, was immunocompromised, putting him at greater risk to the virus.

Family, friends and numerous military and congressional leaders are expected to attend Powell’s funeral scheduled for noon ET.

President Biden, who recently returned from an international trip, and first lady Jill Biden plan to attend the funeral service, according to the White House.

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, as well as former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush, will also be attendance, as will former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The ceremony, which will be closed to the public, will include tributes from Richard Armitage, who served for a time as Powell’s deputy secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration, and Powell’s son, Michael.

Coronavirus safety measures will be followed to protect the health of the attendees, according to the cathedral, which has hosted the funerals of top Washington officials and public servants.

CNN medical analyst said Powell represented the country's most vulnerable to Covid-19

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Colin Powell represented the “most vulnerable population” in America.

“General Powell represented our most vulnerable population in this country. He was over the age of 80, he had cancer, and a treatment for his cancer made him vulnerable,” Reiner told CNN’s Newsroom with Jim Sciutto and Erica Hill on Oct. 18, the day Powell’s death was reported.

Powell’s family announced his death on Facebook saying he died from complications from Covid-19. He was 84 and had been vaccinated. A source familiar with the matter later told CNN he had multiple myeloma – a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response.

Reiner said Powell’s death emphasized the need for all Americans to get vaccinated, to “protect our treasures” like Powell.

“So, when we try and convince young people – who feel that they are low risk from the virus itself – why they need to be vaccinated, it’s to protect our treasures, our people like General Powell, our grandparents, because while, you know, a 25-year-old may do quite well with the infection, if they spread it to someone like General Powell, they will not. That is the imperative for vaccination in this country,” Reiner said.

Remember: For fully vaccinated Americans, the risk of being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19 is low – much lower than the risk for unvaccinated people. But in those rare cases when a fully vaccinated person gets infected, data suggests it is older adults and those with multiple underlying medical conditions who are most at risk of serious illness. 

Months before he died, Powell said he no longer considered himself a member of the Republican Party

After leaving the Bush administration, Colin Powell returned to private life. He joined the renowned venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in 2005, where he worked as a strategic adviser until his death. For a time, he gave speeches at “Get Motivated!” business seminars, and he authored his 2012 memoir.

Though the large majority of Powell’s time as a public servant was spent in Republican administrations, the later years of his life saw him supporting Democratic presidential candidates and harshly criticizing top Republican leaders.

By 2008, the longtime Republican’s coveted presidential endorsement went to another party when he announced his support for Obama’s White House bid.

At the time, he touted Obama’s “ability to inspire” and the “inclusive nature of his campaign,” while criticizing attacks on the Illinois senator by Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s campaign as “inappropriate.” He was later named an honorary co-chair of Obama’s inauguration and endorsed him again in 2012.

Powell went on to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 over Donald Trump, whom he had strongly condemned as a “national disgrace and an international pariah.”

In an extraordinary move that year, three presidential electors in Washington state cast votes for Powell rather than Clinton, resulting in state fines that were later upheld by the Supreme Court.

He again snubbed Trump in 2020 during the President’s second campaign, announcing his support for Joe Biden in June of that year while blasting Trump’s presidency.

“We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the President has drifted away from it,” he told CNN, adding that he “certainly cannot in any way support President Trump this year.” The retired general later delivered an address in support of Biden during the Democratic National Convention.

And after Trump incited a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol in early Jan. 2021, Powell told CNN that he no longer considered himself a Republican, with the longtime grandee of the GOP saying he was now simply watching events unfold in a country he long served.

“I can no longer call myself a fellow Republican. I’m not a fellow of anything right now,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on “GPS.” “I’m just a citizen who has voted Republican, voted Democrat throughout my entire career. And right now, I’m just watching my country and not concerned with parties.”

Bush described his former secretary of state as "highly respected at home and abroad"

Former Republican President George W. Bush released a statement last month reacting to the death of his former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bush said he was “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death and called him “highly respected at home and abroad.”

Read the full statement below:

“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. 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. He 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. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”

Powell served as the country's top diplomat during a turbulent time

Colin Powell was former President George W. Bush’s first Cabinet selection when he was announced as the 43rd President’s nomination for secretary of state, and with his expertise in foreign policy and widespread popularity, he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

He shared Bush’s reluctance to project military strength across the globe, a view that was quickly displaced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As Bush’s top diplomat, he was tasked with building international support for the War on Terror, including the Afghanistan War, but it was his involvement in the administration’s push for intervention in Iraq, over the concerns of many of America’s longtime allies, for which his tenure at State would become best known.

In February 2003, Powell delivered a speech before the United Nations in which he presented evidence that the US intelligence community said proved Iraq had misled inspectors and hid weapons of mass destruction.

Inspectors, however, later found no such weaponry in Iraq, and two years after Powell’s UN speech, a government report said the intelligence community was “dead wrong” in its assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the US invasion.

But the damage was already done — to both Iraq, which the US went to war with just six weeks after Powell’s speech, and to the reputation of the once highly popular statesman, who was reportedly told by Cheney before the UN speech: “You’ve got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points.”

Powell, who left the State Department in early 2005 after submitting his resignation to Bush the previous year, later called his UN speech a “blot” that will forever be on his record.

“I regret it now because the information was wrong — of course I do,” he told CNN’s Larry King in 2010. “But I will always be seen as the one who made the case before the international community.”

“I swayed public opinion, there’s no question about it,” he added, referring to how influential his speech was on public support for the invasion.

In his 2012 memoir, “It Worked for Me,” Powell again acknowledged the speech, writing that his account of it in the book would likely be the last he publicly made.

“I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me,” he wrote, referring to the report he used that contained faulty evidence of supposed Iraqi WMDs. “It was by no means my first, but it was one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact.”

“The event will earn a prominent paragraph in my obituary,” Powell wrote.