Defender Exclusive

With the recent passing of Gen. Colin Powell, media outlets near and far provided snapshots of the former secretary of state’s life. The Bayou City, however, is home to one of Powell’s former colleagues in the George W. Bush administration, and more importantly, a friend.

Dr. Rod Paige, who went from HISD superintendent to U.S. secretary of education during the W. Bush years, recently shared with the Defender personal remembrances of his late friend, Gen. Powell.

DEFENDER: When did you and Gen. Powell first meet?

ROD PAIGE: Both of us came to Washington in January 2001 to join the Bush cabinet. We had several meetings to get together and understand the dynamics of what was happening there and be instructed on how we should conduct ourselves. It was interesting meeting him. He and I, and there was one other African-American gentlemen in that group (Alphonso Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development). So, we just kind of came together as a group.

DEFENDER: How did the friendship develop?

PAIGE: The friendship kind of formed because I was fascinated by meeting a general in the military and the experience he had. I was interested in learning more about him. And the more I learned about him, the more I was excited about learning about him, because he was one of the most fascinating human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. So, I was very inquisitive about meeting him. I looked forward to meeting with him, talking to him, having good conversations with him and learning more about who he was and how he came to develop those attitudes.

DEFENDER: To the general public, Gen. Powell always seemed very serious, straight-laced, no-nonsense. What made him so fascinating?

PAIGE: He had factual information about a broad range of subjects; almost any subject you’d bring up. He didn’t just have surface information about it, he usually had very deep information about it. And here’s the thing that made it very interesting. He also had a fascinating sense of humor. Very comfortable. His conversations were soft, but they were factual and straightforward. And very rarely could you bring up a subject that he couldn’t get in conversation with and be deeply involved. He was a very knowledgeable guy.

DEFENDER: What was the experience like being two of the three Black men serving as members of a presidential administration?

PAIGE: Understand, I came from the education field and I hadn’t been in politics. That was kind of a strange field for me. So, I was very inquisitive about how things were going and very careful about my conduct to make sure that I was conducting myself properly, and having knowledge about what the issues were that were taking place. It was kind of a strange situation for me and a very interesting time. I was especially interested in learning the other members of the cabinet and their characteristics and their history. I spent a lot of time reading about them before the meetings so I could understand who they were…[Gen. Powell] and I had kind of a solid friendship. And I was fascinated by his intelligence and his comedy.

DEFENDER: Is there anything else you would like to share about your friendship with the general?

PAIGE: Although we didn’t have conference calls often, but occasionally, I miss that. When I got the news of his passing, that was a depth of feeling that I had not experienced before for a person whose relationship was like his. He was a person that I really appreciated and loved being connected with and kind of loved him as a gentleman, as well. He was a broad person.