Colin Powell, the first African American to serve as Secretary of State, National Security Adviser, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a supporter of higher education, died on October 18 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 84 years old and had contracted COVID-19 while battling cancer.
A native of New York City, General Powell was the son of Jamaican immigrants. He was a graduate of the City University of New York, where he majored in geology and excelled in its ROTC program. He served two tours in Vietnam and was wounded twice. After the war, General Powell earned an MBA at George Washington University and studied at the National War College.
After several Army assignments, Powell became National Security Adviser in the later years of the Reagan Administration. He was named chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989 and served in that role through the early days of the Clinton administration. General Powell’s memoir My American Journey (Ballantine Books, 1995) was a bestseller. He considered a run for president in 1996 but decided against it.
President George W. Bush named Gen Powell Secretary of State in 2001. In that role, he urged the 2003 invasion of Iraq because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction at the disposal of President Saddam Hussein. Those weapons were never found.
In 1997 he founded the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at City College. In 2013, the Center was transformed into the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, focusing on developing the next generation of civic-minded leaders committed to public service and rooted in the social sciences.
Andrew Rich, dean of the Colin Powell School, said that “General Powell committed himself to every student who walked through our doors. He loved this place and loved meeting every one of them. He would show up early to meetings on campus so that he could stand in front of Shepard Hall and meet students as they walked by. General Powell never missed a Colin Powell School graduation, and he took the time to shake the hand of every student earning a degree. He was proud of this place, and we are even prouder to have had him as our leader.”