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Northwest lawmakers, former Pentagon chiefs pay tribute to Colin Powell after former top diplomat dies of COVID-19

Gen. Colin Powell, a former secretary of state, speaks on Oct. 12, 2018, at the Spokane Convention Center. Whitworth hosted Powell as part of its President’s Leadership Forum. Powell died Monday due to complications related to COVID-19.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/The Spokesman-Review)

Tributes to Gen. Colin Powell poured in from Northwest lawmakers after the former secretary of state died Monday at age 84 from complications related to COVID-19.

Before he became the top U.S. diplomat under President George W. Bush in 2001, Powell spent 35 years in the Army, rising to the rank of four-star general and becoming the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989.

“Secretary Powell was a true leader who will be immortalized in history for his long career of distinguished service to our country,” Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said in a statement. “He served during a particularly challenging period in American history, and he did so with extreme courage, humility, and grace.”

As the nation’s top military official, Powell oversaw the U.S. invasion of Kuwait in 1991 to end an occupation by neighboring Iraq. His reputation was tarnished when he told the United Nations Security Council in 2003 that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq based on false information.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., wrote on Twitter that she was saddened to learn of Powell’s passing.

“His service to our country will not be forgotten,” Cantwell said. “He made history as the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State.”

Rep. Adam Smith, a Bellevue Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that although the general served several presidents in and out of uniform, “the central theme of Colin Powell’s impressive career and life was service ultimately to the United States.”

“The son of Jamaican immigrants, a proud product of New York City public schools, and a Vietnam War veteran, Powell witnessed history even as he made it,” Smith said. “Our thoughts today are with his loved ones and all who may walk the trails he blazed.”

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, called Powell “a venerated public servant” whose service “left an indelible mark on American national security policy and diplomacy.”

“General Powell earned immense respect at home and abroad – as evidenced by receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice,” Crapo said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed. I offer my sincere condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Rep. Rick Larsen, an Everett Democrat who also serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that Powell was “a dedicated soldier, public servant & leader whose historic ascent to the highest levels of the military & government was, to paraphrase former President George W. Bush, ‘a great American story.’ ”

Two former defense secretaries with Northwest ties also shared their memories of Powell. Jim Mattis, a Pullman native and fellow four-star general who served as Pentagon chief from 2017 to 2019, said in a statement that Powell “gained respect at home and abroad the old fashioned way: he earned it.”

“For so many of us in the military, General Powell was our role model of an American patriot,” Mattis said. “From his combat service as a junior officer in Vietnam to his leadership at the apex of our government, he kept his unapologetic faith in America’s promise to build a more perfect union.”

“Always willing to assist others, he represented the generous nature of Americans committed to our most noble values. Those of us privileged to call him friend will miss this great man, even as we recommit to living up to his example.”

Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary from 2006 to 2011 under both Bush and Barack Obama and now lives in Skagit County, said in a statement that Powell’s passing meant “America has lost a great patriot and public servant.”

“A friend for nearly forty years, Colin’s whole life was about duty, honor and country,” Gates said. “He is gone far too soon. My thoughts and prayers are with General Powell’s family.”