Powell spoke with TIME reporter Eliza Gray.
Tom and I met in 1988 in Nashville when we both were inducted into an honor society called the American Academy of Achievement. He had just become world-famous. It was a couple of years after The Hunt for Red October came out. At the time, I was National Security Adviser to President Reagan. So I, being a soldier, and he, being deeply involved in military matters, hit it off right away. I was fascinated by how an insurance agent, on his first shot at writing a book, had come up with Hunt for Red October. We and our spouses spent the whole weekend talking. We became fast friends and stayed in touch over the next 25 years.
After that first meeting, we did a lot of things together. He had a firing range at this house, and some years ago, we went down to the firing range and had a shoot-off with my pistol and his pistol. I will not tell you who won.
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Tom, who was 66 when he died on Oct. 2, was quite an interesting guy. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. He spoke his mind clearly, and sometimes was quite outspoken. With Tom, you knew what you had. There was a degree of candor and honesty. And he was always learning.
His books were all great, but I have a slight preference for Clear and Present Danger because I helped give him the idea for it, at least that’s what he says in his acknowledgements. We were talking about drugs and the work the military was doing in South America to cut the flow of drugs, and he said that gave him the idea.
What made his books so popular throughout the world, especially among the military, was how he immersed himself in the things he wrote about. He studied and talked to so many people. He wasn’t sneaking into classified facilities. He was able to gain this extraordinary knowledge by reading, studying and talking to folks.
Tom’s books were incredibly accurate. He didn’t invent impossible schemes. He invented things that could happen. Some things that have actually happened over years bore some resemblance to scenarios that he put together. Tom could sense things and see things in a way that others couldn’t. Even though he wasn’t writing nonfiction, some of the things he wrote became reality.
He was a friend whom I treasured. He was somebody who really loved his country, and through his books, he demonstrated that love. I will miss him, and we all will miss him a great deal because there will be no more Jack Ryan.