SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Americans are remembering Colin Powell for his many titles: advisor to presidents, the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the first Black Secretary of State. To Powell’s right-hand man, who now lives in Syracuse, he’s remembering the loss of a friend.
In an interview Monday with NewsChannel 9, Bill Smullen said, “I fell in love with him. We lost a treasure today.”
Powell died Monday at the age of 84 from complications of coronavirus.
Bill Smullen joined the faculty of Syracuse University after working as Powell’s chief of staff for 13 years.
Their partnership started when Powell took over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1989 from William Crowe.
Smullen said, “I think Powell questioned how well I could transfer my loyalty to him, so he interviewed me for the job. I had never met him.”
Many international conflicts at the first Gulf War made their work high-stakes, but the constant hours gave Smullen access to Powell almost no one else had and gave rare insight into the man behind the uniform.
“On weekends, he would say: ‘I don’t want you to work this weekend. I want you to be with your family.’ He cared deeply about people.”
After the military, the men retired together but worked just as hard. Smullen helped Powell start his non-profit for at risk children, America’s Promise. He followed Powell when he became President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State.
In the years since, the men stayed in touch by phone and email. It’s how Smullen found out last year that his friend at multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that decimates an immune system.
Smullen said he learned from Powell every day, by watching and listening. He says others can learn too.
“Go back to credibility,” Smullen said. “To be trusted, to be believed, to be taken at your word. We should all vie for that reputation of being credible. He clearly had that reputation. It’s what people called him. It’s why presidents asked for his counsel.”