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Colin Powell is remembered as a down-to-earth statesman and leader at his funeral

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell is pictured after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in Washington, D.C. Powell died in October and is being honored at a funeral service on Friday.
David Bohrer
U.S. National Archives via Getty Images
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell is pictured after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in Washington, D.C. Powell died in October and is being honored at a funeral service on Friday.

Updated November 5, 2021 at 2:30 PM ET

Colin Powell was memorialized as a war hero, statesman, counselor to presidents and down-to-earth father who loved old cars and ABBA during his funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral Friday.

Powell, a four-star general and the first Black person to serve as secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died Oct. 18 at age 84 from complications of COVID-19. Powell was national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan and served two tours in Vietnam.

At the funeral service on Friday, President Biden and first lady Jill Biden were joined by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as their wives. A bipartisan array of other high-ranking officials from both current and former administrations — rare in Washington's current climate of polarization — were also on hand, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and James Baker. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was also in attendance, as were former Defense Secretaries William Cohen and Robert Gates.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, along with Powell's son, Michael, gave tributes.

The Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the dean of the cathedral, said Powell was "a blessing to all who knew him."

Quoting the apostle Paul, Hollerith said Powell "fought the good fight and he kept the faith."

Armitage said Powell told him, "We always need to treat people with a little more respect than they deserve, because we don't know what's going on with their lives."

He also related a story from when Powell was visited by the Swedish foreign minister, who presented Powell — a fan of the Swedish pop group ABBA — with a set of the group's CDs. Armitage said Powell "immediately got down on one knee and sang the entire 'Mama Mia' to a very amused foreign minister from Sweden and to a gobsmacked U.S. delegation."

In the wake of Operation Desert Storm, which Powell oversaw as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Albright said he was "the hero of the western world."

Albright noted that Powell said "I almost gave him an aneurysm" over a policy dispute, but that the two, from opposite parties, became friends. "Beneath that glossy exterior of warrior-statesman was one of the most generous and decent people any of us will ever meet," Albright said, calling him a figure "who almost transcended time. His virtues were Homeric — honesty, dignity, loyalty and an unshakable commitment to his calling and word."

Michael Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said that his father "made a monumental difference. He lived, he lived well."

Powell said that to honor his father's 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." Calling his father "a great lion with a big heart," Powell said, "We will miss him terribly."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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