Over four decades in the public arena, Colin L. Powell served with distinction and never wavered in serving a cause greater than himself.
Aside from Dwight Eisenhower, he was the most popular American general of the 20th century.
As someone who experienced war firsthand, he knew it should only be an option of last resort. This made him an outstanding commanding officer and first-rate diplomat.
Powell, who died this month at age 84 of COVID-19 complications, drew from his experience in the Army, including combat in Vietnam and administration of Operation Desert Storm, to become a trusted adviser on national security and diplomacy to presidents of both parties, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.
As Ambassador to Hungary in the days following Sept. 11, 2001, I had the privilege of working with Secretary Powell at the time he was Secretary of State.
For obvious reasons that was a climatic period in our nation’s foreign affairs. With many diplomats set to depart for foreign capitals in the weeks following 9/11, Colin looked at each of us, personally, and spoke on leadership.
His own personal definition was that leadership is the art of getting people to do more than the science of management says is possible. As he put it, “If the science of management says that the capacity of the State Department is at 100%, good leaders take it to 110%.”
When I arrived in Budapest almost exactly 20 years ago this month, some mistakenly believed that America was wounded and on its back. The Secretary’s words gave me strength, courage, and the determination to make clear, that we were prepared to roar.
In recent months and weeks, some from the political Right and Left with gravity in public discourse have taken to social media to sully his record.
They fail to see that this will further endear the son of Jamaican immigrants in the eyes of his country.
Sec. Powell retired from the military with the rank of four-star general.
He broke through racial barriers as a soldier and as a statesman, serving as the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black secretary of state. He was a loving father and husband and a loyal friend.
In his life, he represented the best of America. In memory, he will surely inspire greatness in others to move beyond their capacity for leadership.
I pray our nation’s leaders follow his example in the years ahead.
Nancy Brinker is a former U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Chief of Protocol, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and founder of Susan G. Komen and The Promise Fund of Florida. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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