Colin Powell: Eager to Honor Other Public Servants, Not Himself

Remembering one of the country’s most accomplished and decorated leaders. 

Much will be written and said about Colin Powell in the coming days, after his death Monday morning from complications of Covid-19. His 35 years of service in the Army, along with posts as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of State made him one of the most accomplished and decorated public servants in the history of the United States.

That’s why it was an easy decision for Government Executive to make Powell a member of the inaugural class of the Government Hall of Fame when we created the hall in 2019. When we invited him to come and accept the honor at a gala reception at the Washington National Cathedral, though, he demurred, citing a previous obligation. 

But the next year, Powell eagerly accepted an invitation to celebrate a group of new inductees into the hall.

In a video message filmed for a virtual celebration due to the coronavirus pandemic, Powell lauded Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright. Both, he said, “were dear friends of mine and great secretaries of State.” But Powell, unasked, also took the time to single out a couple of other inductees.

“We also want to pay tribute to two other individuals who were terrific government employees and contributed so much to this country. One is a name that may not be familiar to you, and that is Doc Cooke. Doc Cooke was the ‘mayor of the Pentagon,’ as we called him, those of us who were there with him, and he did a great job in managing the Pentagon while he was there. The other one I want to mention is Frederick Douglass, one of the great Americans who did so much for America, and is deserving of this tribute and this reception. And so, enjoy the evening, and don’t forget the contributions these four individuals made to our nation.”

Notice that the longest encomium is reserved for Cooke, who, as Powell noted, isn’t exactly a household name. It clearly pleased him to see Cooke honored.

Colin Powell will be remembered for many things. One of them should be his eagerness to shine his light on the accomplishments of others.