'Every time I rev up a Ford Mustang, I'll be thinking about Colin Powell.' How one Utah leader remembers his friend, mentor

Colin Powell speaks to a large group gathered at the Capitol to kick off Gov. Mike Leavitt’s volunteer summit at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Oct. 21, 1997. Powell has died at age 84.

Colin Powell speaks to a large group gathered at the Capitol to kick off Gov. Mike Leavitt’s volunteer summit at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Oct. 21, 1997. Powell has died at age 84. (Kristan Jacobsen, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador remembered Colin Powell not only as a statesman but as a friend, mentor and neighbor.

Jon Huntsman Jr. lived down the street from Powell in the Washington, D.C., area where they shared an affinity for foreign policy and for cars. Powell liked to buy and work on old Volvos in his garage. He used to rev the engine on his Corvette in front of Huntsman's house. Huntsman returned the favor in his Mustang.

"And he kept repairing his cars all the way to the end," Huntsman said Monday on KSL NewsRadio's "Inside Sources." "Every time I rev up a Ford Mustang, I'll be thinking about Colin, who I always threatened on the drag strip. We never got that far."

Powell, a four-star general and the nation's first Black secretary of state, died at age 84 of COVID-19 complications, his family said on Facebook, adding that he had been vaccinated and was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Powell suffered from Parkinson's disease and had undergone treatment for multiple myeloma, which compromised his immune system.

Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China and Russia, said Powell reflected on the problems in the world and offered him career advice during some of the private moments they shared.

"As I like to say, he was the best president we never had. I think he could have been elected president. I don't think there's any question about that. But he chose a different route. His family was opposed to the idea, and everyone respected that," Huntsman said.

Powell, he said, was a capable, thoughtful and respectable statesman who helped transform the world during his service. He saw the end of communism, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the remaking of Europe, the rise of China and wars in the Middle East, Huntsman said.

"He was part of, either as a military leader or as a diplomat, the seminal issues of our day," he said.

Huntsman said Powell, as secretary of state, was "badly hurt" after learning the information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq he presented to the U.N. Security Council was flawed.

"It broke the man in ways that I don't think he ever recovered from because his integrity was so very, very important to him, and he had put his integrity on the line. He probably had more integrity than any other senior member of the Bush administration at the time, and he made the claims that later on proved to be not absolutely 100% correct," Huntsman said.

"I think, in a sense, that because of his credibility he was being used for that presentation before the Security Council."

Powell reluctantly supported President George W. Bush's push to invade Iraq after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and later called his U.N. speech a "blot on my record."

Members of Utah's congressional delegation also praised Powell as a statesman and a patriot.

"Today, the nation lost a man of undaunted courage and a champion of character. A statesman & trailblazer, devoted to America and the cause of liberty, Colin Powell's legacy of service & honor will long inspire. Ann & I offer our love & sincere condolences to Alma and his family," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, posted on Twitter.

Sen. Mike Lee said in a statement that Powell was a "giant of statesmanship."

"His career defending American liberty and national security transcended politics. He was a patriot of the highest order. I pray for his family and all those who were touched by his greatness," Lee said.

Powell served three Republican presidents in senior positions, including as national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during his 40-year career. His speech at the United Nations in 2003 helped pave the way for the U.S. to go to war with Iraq.

"As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs & America's first Black Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell was an extraordinary public servant & steadfast leader for our country. I'm sending my deepest condolences to his wife Alma & the entire Powell family during this difficult time," Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, tweeted.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, described Powell as a "great American."

"Colin Powell leaves behind a distinguished, trailblazing legacy of service. From combat duty in Vietnam to becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his sense of duty was unmatched," he tweeted.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said his thoughts are with the Powell family.

"Today we have lost a statesman, a career soldier who pursued diplomacy over conflict throughout his public service," he tweeted.

Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, tweeted, "Colin Powell was an admired public servant. He was so respected that he won the Presidential Medal of Freedom - twice. I hope we can learn from his example. Rest in peace."

Moore also recalled attending an event honoring Powell in the late '90s.

"I will never forget meeting him. I always respected his leadership, and my thoughts are with his family on this sad day," he said.

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