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CNN Live Event/Special

Family, Friends Gather To Honor Trailblazer Colin Powell. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 05, 2021 - 12:30   ET



RICHARD ARMITAGE, SERVED AS POWELL'S DEPUTY AT STATE DEPARTMENT: Sure, I'll be right down, roll down the two flights of stairs into his office. Nancy Hughes who's at the door. She said, "Go right on in. They're expecting you."

Well, I wasn't expecting them. But I went on in and there was a boombox playing, it was a shirker, a very tall gentleman. That also included General Powell, who's a Harlem Globetrotters and the boombox who play and sweet Georgia Brown and they were passing the ball around and I'm not unfamiliar with a basketball court whack when I could really walk and I would say run but really walk.

So they asked me to join the circle, I did. But every time one of the Globetrotters would pass the ball to Secretary Powell, he fumbled it. He dropped it. It would fall to the floor.

So finally, one of the Globetrotters switched off the boombox and said, "Bro P, what's up with you? We throw you the ball and you're drop it." And without a grin, without a grimace, he looks straight at that Globetrotter and said, "Well, you were out shooting hoops, I was stealing hubcaps."

Globetrotter said that was I. Flick the boombox back on. It was sweet Georgia Brown time again. I've said he had insatiable curiosity. Nothing made Secretary Powell happier than to sneak away from insecurity detail. Does that sound familiar to anyone here? And when he do it in the State Department, he would generally be followed by a call to me on the shell saying, "I'm free. I broke out."

And then he told me where it was because it wouldn't be long before security be gone crazy. Well, this day found him down in the parking lot of the State Department, has a huge underground parking lot. And he walked up to an attendant who, by the way, I'm not sure, knew if this was the Secretary of State, and secretary said, "I've always wondered somehow, how do you figure out who gets in the front row or the second row, which means you can egress roughly on the time you thought you were going to egress. And who gets in the back row because that will take you 40 minutes?"

I said, "It's very easy." He said, people come in and say, good morning, or it's snowing out there, or traffic is bad today. We put them in the front row, the second row, and they come in with a window wound up, won't look right or left is right on past 40 minutes, and then they can get out. There'll be in the back row.

This nugget was so enlightening lightning to Secretary Powell that he made bold to ask about certain members of hierarchy in the State Department. You'll have to guess, I'm not going to tell you who. The majority of them got through with first and second row but a couple actually ended up time and again in the back row.

Well the third anecdote that I was going to say had to do with Secretary Powell, General Powell, Colin, C. P., however you knew him, and as secretary of state. And visiting foreign minister from Sweden Ann Linde was in. So she came in with her entourage and the secretaries were very well appointed office and she knew of Secretary Powell's affection for ABBA and she knew of Secretary Powell's affection for Volvo.

So she opened up a full CD set of ABBA and presented it to him. Colin immediately went down on one knee and sang the entire "Mamma Mia". To her very amused, foreign minister from Sweden and to gobsmacked U.S. delegation, but never seen anything like it.

Well our tastes in music were not very similar except for one that would call into mind, except for one. Every Saturday afternoon at 5:00, we would listen to WPFW in Washington. This is Pacifica radio, this is a people's radio. Don't tell anybody who investigates us for security clearances because this is liberation radio, if you will.

There was a show at 5:00 in the afternoon hosted by Mr. Von Martin and it's called Caribbeana and that's one thing the two of us really like, whether it's Bob Marley and the Wailers and we'll hear more about that later Iggy (ph) Marley, the swallow and a number of people. So we really had great one -- that one music taste.

Colin loved the church. He loved the ceremony. He loved the liturgy. He loved the high hymns. This made him extremely happy and for Alma knows every day at 7:00 or 7:05, I would call him or he'd call me, we'd get our days ready except on Sunday.


On Sunday, I'd call at 9:30 and he would answer the same way every Sunday. He said, "Oh yes, I was at church and I want you to know I'm in the state of grace." And I would answer the same way every Sunday. "Home, if you're not in the state of grace, who among us is." And that was every day for almost 40 years. The same opening remarks.

Well I grew up in the south and my taste in hymns is a little different from Secretary Powell's. And my favorite hymn is one by the Reverend F. C. Barnes. He sings it with his wife and it's called coming up on the rough side of the mountain. It's got three verses and two choruses. I'm just going to submit you to the third verse.

This old race will soon be over. There will be no more race to run and I will stand before God's throne. All my heartaches will be gone and I'll hear my saviour say, "Welcome home." Be real quiet, listen real carefully, and you might hear our saviour say, "Colin, welcome home and here's your starry crown." And finally, it's a message to Alma and the kids. He's a very busy father, very busy husband, huge responsibilities. They say I've talked to him once, sometimes 15 times a day for 40 years. Never in 40 years do I recall his ever failing to either start or end his day by telling what Alma was doing, what Michael and Jane were doing, what Linda was doing, what Annemarie and Francis were doing, what the grandkids were doing.

And the reason I mention this is because I think as a husband, as a father, as a friend, I don't think we share often enough how we really feel with our family. Sometimes I think we take it for granted. But I want you to know that he didn't take it for granted. Every morning or evening, I heard about it.

So God bless, Colin, God bless the Powell family and God bless us all. Thank you can. Can I go out that way?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, PRECEDED POWELL AS SECRETARY OF STATE: President Biden, President Obama, President Bush, Secretary Clinton, distinguished leaders and guests, my heart is sad for I have lost a friend. Alma, Michael, Linda and Annemarie, the remarkable Powell family, I'm grateful to you for inviting me to share my thoughts in this hour of celebration and remembrance.

In 1993, when I began serving as America's ambassador to the U.N., General Colin Powell was already in his final months as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At White House meetings, I came equipped with a yellow pad. He brought a laser pointer and an array of multi- colored slides. I wore a pin, he wore a lot of metals. I was a mere mortal female civilian.

In the wake of Operation Desert Storm, he was the hero of the western world. 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. Although we were at 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. 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, loyalty and an unshakable commitment to his calling and word.

These were the same traits he sought tirelessly to instilled in the soldiers under his command. The diplomats he led, the colleagues with whom he worked, the readers of his books, the audiences that flocked to his speeches, the students of the Powell school for civic and global leadership, and the thousands of young people who benefited from the America's Promise Alliance that Alma and he championed.


He relished the opportunity to connect with other generations and it's always the right time he told us and I, quote, "To reach out to someone who's wanting to look up and to each in our own way to help put that fellow American on the road to success." A firstly listener and in government the ultimate team player, Colin was nevertheless always true to himself. He could not be moved by any threat or tempting promise to depart from what he felt was right. 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. Colin looks credibly cool. People in public life tend to hyperventilate. We open our mouths and the superlatives just gush forth, greatest worst, the biggest deal ever, the biggest disaster ever, as if each issue offered a choice between utopia and perdition.

Over the decades, I sat in many meetings with Colin where I could almost hear his eyes roll. When it was his turn to speak, he was brilliant at bringing over the moon claims down to earth and distilling what truly mattered from what did not. His effectiveness was magnified by his lack of interest in racking up partisan debating points or improving how macho he could be as a negotiator. He cared only about achieving results and somehow through the strength of his personality, he made pragmatism charismatic.

Colin Powell's legacy of service to the country he loved will along survive his passing from rescuing fellow soldiers while in combat, to presiding over the rollback of aggression in the Middle East, to orchestrating after 9/11, a global alliance against al-Qaeda, to modernizing the practice of diplomacy. He devoted the full measure of his energy and skills to advancing national interests and to the common good. Hold up. And he did so in the right way which is why the army loved him, why his adversaries respected him and why, within the State Department, he was far more popular than his predecessor.

I remember the day his nomination as secretary of state was announced because Colin drove himself, having escaped his sleepless service, over to my house so we could begin planning a smooth transition. Amid the rancor over the 2000 election, he was determined to set the right example. There's a photo taken a few days later which shows him arriving at the State Department and we're laughing and on the cusp of a warm embrace. I treasure that picture because it captures our relationship and had grown from one of mutual respect to one of mutual affection.

It did help that we both had a sense of humor. In his memoir, he recalled that during one session on Bosnia, where I was advocating the use of force, he had felt compelled to explain to me patiently the military's proper role. When the book came out, he sent me a copy inscribed, "Patiently yours, Colin." And when I replied I signed my note of thanks, "Forcefully yours, Madeleine."

In time, we really did become the closest of friends, traveling together for speeches, trading frequent phone calls and having lunch at his beloved cafe Ogi (ph). We talked a lot about our gratitude to the country, our pride and our families and our distaste of aging. He offered me plenty of advice. The last time I saw him, he instructed me to count each step in order to avoid tripping or falling down the stairs. I now do that several times a day and each time I think of Colin.

This morning, my heart aches because we have lost a friend and our nation one of its finest and most loyal soldiers. Yet even as we contemplate the magnitude of our loss, we can almost hear a familiar voice asking us, no commanding us to stop feeling sad to turn our gaze once again from the past to the future and to get on with the nation's business, while making the absolute most of our own days on earth.


One step at a time. To that command, we can only reply, yes sir.



MICHAEL POWELL, COLIN POWELL'S SON: My sisters and I were raised under the stars, the stars of the story general we eulogized today. Dad was famous for his 13 rules, but our family life was unregimented. No morning revelry of marching drills. It was a warm and joyous and loving home anchored by our strong and graceful mother Alma.

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 kludgy. He believed he could cheaply fix anything with a little duct tape, some wire and a can of spray paint. He'd even propose a solution for a non-existent problem just to satisfy his curiosity about how something worked.

Like the time in high school, he decided that my cherished 1962 Chevy Impala was making a noise. It definitely was not making a noise. Nonetheless, he pursued the phantom sound by pulling the engine, something he had never done before. He spent a whole weekend hanging chain and hoisting the engine and messing with who knows what.

When he put it back together and started it, the car walked like a helicopter. We rushed to the door and saw him backing out of the driveway with a big proud smile on his face, but that smile faded quickly when he shifts the car into drive and it would never go forward again. But he was always thinking, so he donated the car to the local fire department. To get it there, he literally drove the car backwards on public roads for 3 miles, smiling at astonished drivers along the way.

He liked tinkering. When he was a one-star general living in Fort Carson, Colorado, he inexplicably became fascinated with mechanical adding machines. He would buy them by the pallet at auction and then try to get the machines to work. At one point, there were so many adding machines he had to store them in the garage refrigerator. I suppose every general needs a signature eccentricity.

George Patton had pearl handled revolvers. Colin Powell had adding machines. His zest for life derived from his endless passion for people. He was genuinely interested in everyone he met. He loved a hot dog vendor, a bank teller, a janitor and a student as much as any world leader.

Not long ago, he was driving his corvette on the beltway and got a flat tire. A young disabled veteran saw him and pulled over to help.


With the tire fixed, the young vet sheepishly asked if he could take a quick selfie, but my dad took time to ask about his family and his friends and his life. Something no Instagram moment could ever uncover. A few days later, to thank him for his help, my father invited the vet and his entire family over to the house for dinner.

Colin Powell was a great leader because he was a great follower. He knew you could not ask your troops to do anything you are unwilling to do yourself. One time I was walking into the PX with my dad. We came upon a corporal saluting a captain over and over again. My father walked up and asked this captain what he was doing. The captain replied, "Sir, this corporal failed to salute me, so I'm making him salute me a hundred times."

My dad said, "That's fine. But you make darn sure you salute him back every single time. The exchange of salutes is a sign of mutual respect." He loved the troops with all his heart. The morning I was flying to Germany for my first assignment as a new army officer, he came into my room to say goodbye. He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek and whispered gently, "Take care of our soldiers."

Countless people have benefited from his mentorship. He could offer weighty wisdom and a few choice words. I recall when I was chairman of the FCC and having a very rough go in the press, I e-mailed him and asked, "Maybe I should consider stepping down?" The response was, "Swift. Powells don't quit. People will long forget the issues you're dealing with, they will never forget how you conduct yourself."

Then he quoted a passage from Thomas Jefferson's second inaugural dress which reads, "I have learned to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation and the favor which bring him into it." In other words, public service comes at a cost if you're committed to doing the right thing.

Colin Luther was very proud of his Jamaican immigrant heritage and loved his big West Indian family. Family was the foundation of his beliefs and the source of never-ending comfort. Bringing shame to the family was the cardinal sin. He frequently said, "Don't forget where you came from. Words that call us to remain grateful, to stay humble and to be brave."

In the road to character, David Brooks draws a distinction between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are your achievements and your skills. Eulogy virtues are those discussed at your funeral. The ones that exist at the core of your being whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful. This person has a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong not only to do good, but to be good.

He wants to love intimately, to sacrifice self in the service of others and to live in obedience to some transcendent trust. That was my father.

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.

We walk through this life holding hands with the ones we love. They guide us, they pull us out of harm's way. They touch and caress us with love and kindness. One of my most powerful memories comes from holding my dad's hand.

I was hurt very badly and lying in an ICU bed following a bad accident. It was the middle of the night yet my father was by my side after a long day of work. I was squirming in pain and anguish. Without a word, he just took my hand and squeezed it with a father's love. It instantly relaxed and put me at peace.

The last night of his life, I walked in to see him. Now, he was the one lying in an ICU bed.