Colin Powell Dies of COVID-19 Complications

Lydia McFarlane

On Monday, Oct. 18, Colin Powell passed away after years of service to the United States. Powell was a retired four-star general for the nation’s military who then went on to be the nation’s first Black Secretary of State, during the Bush administration, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His death, due to complications of the coronavirus, was announced via a Facebook statement made by his family. He was fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, at the age of 84 and with serious underlying medical conditions, he was unable to overcome the coronavirus infection and lost his battle Monday after being treated at Walter Reed National Medical Center. He had myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response, and Parkinson’s disease.

We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family said.

Powell leaves behind an impressive life and an incredible legacy as one of the most powerful and respected Black men in American politics. He was born in Harlem, NY in 1937 to Jamaican immigrants. After college, he served two tours in the Vietnam War. Rising through the ranks, he quickly became a respected general within the army. This respect and fame led him to be appointed as President Ronald Reagan’s final National Security Advisor and later to be chosen by President H.W. Bush to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the early 2000s, he was the younger Bush’s first choice to his Cabinet as Secretary of State and was quickly approved by the Senate. He enjoyed high approval ratings and was well liked by political leaders of both parties. 

Powell was never committed to partisanship and found himself voting and working for both parties at different points in his life, although he worked primarily for Republican administrations. At the beginning of 2021, Powell said in an interview, “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.” 

Powell can be said to be a true leader, unconcerned with bipartisan issues and more focused on the work he was doing for the people of the United States. Across political party barriers, he was respected and well-known, which is a testament to his commitment to the nation and its people. Former President Bush said of Powell’s flexibility and respect across several presidencies, “Many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. 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.” 

The announcement of Powell’s death has been met with an outpouring of love, grief and well wishes to his family from prominent former and current American political figures alike.  President Joe Biden said in a statement regarding Powell’s death, “Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity. From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation’s policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong. Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else — in uniform and out — and it earned him the universal respect of the American people.” 

In addition to being an important political figure, he was also a trailblazer and a tremendous mentor to politicians of color who followed in his footsteps. The nation’s current Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, said of Powell’s death, “He always made time for me and I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great counsel. We will certainly miss him.” 

Austin recently made history himself as the nation’s first Black Defense Secretary, making Powell an excellent mentor and role model for him. Powell’s death marked a sad day in American history, as we as citizens have to say goodbye to a trailblazer and political great.