Colin Powell, a man of great stature and a trailblazer | Opinion

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Colin Powell, who sadly passed away from COVID-19 complications at the age of 84 on Oct. 18, 2021, was a man of great stature in American military and diplomatic life as well as a trailblazer. I offer my sincere condolences to his loving family.

Mr. Powell was born in 1937 in Harlem in New York City of Jamaican immigrant parentage and grew up in the Bronx and then in Queens.

Young Colin attended public school as a child and upon graduating from Morris High School he entered the City College of New York, a free public college (which was dubbed the poor man’s Harvard), graduating in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in geology.

It was at CCNY where he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and developed his interest in soldiering. Upon graduation from college, Mr. Powell received a commission in the U.S. Army where he served for 35 years and honed his leadership skills. During his long and remarkable military service he rose to the rank of four-star general.

In 1962, he married Alma Johnson, whom he met on a blind date, and they had three children together.

Recognizing his talents and abilities, President Ronald Reagan brought Mr. Powell on board to serve as his National Security Advisor during the period 1987 to 1989. Then Mr. Powell was subsequently appointed as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the first African American to hold the position — for both President George H.W. Bush and for President Bill Clinton from 1989 to 1993. In 1991, as head of the military, he led the U.S. to victory in Persian Gulf War.

Because of his outstanding service to America and his active political support for then-candidate George W. Bush, he was made U.S. Secretary of State upon Bush’s election as president. Mr. Powell once again was the first African American to serve in this position, which is the leading diplomatic role in America. Although he was able to shape American foreign policy, his service as Secretary of State during the period 2001 to 2005, however, was marred because of his unsubstantiated claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Upon Mr. Powell’s passing, many glowing tributes to him have been pouring in from around the world.

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, remembers him as a towering figure who inspired respect.

“Colin was a towering figure in American military and political leadership over many years, someone of immense capability and integrity, a hugely likable and warm personality and a great companion, with a lovely and self-deprecating sense of humor,” he said in media reports.

“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.”

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Former President George W. Bush noted the reliance of American presidents on Gen. Powell’s counsel by stating, “He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many presidents relied on Gen. 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,” Bush added.

I had the good fortune of meeting Colin Powell when he visited my home country of Trinidad in 1998. Both he and I attended the same college but during different eras, and I briefly spoke to him about our beloved and mutual alma mater, CCNY. I am extremely grateful to have met this heroic American icon.

Even though General Powell has passed on, he will certainly not be forgotten. He stood out as a giant in American life and was well respected by all. He will be remembered for his wisdom, for his decency, for his trailblazing achievements, and for his dedicated and distinguished public service.

Steve H. Dixon is a Delray Beach resident and former city of New York civil servant

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