It's too late for Colin Powell to run for president.

Although he briefly considered running for office after retiring from military service 16 years ago, the former Secretary of State, four-star U.S. Army general and commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he decided long ago he lacked the inner passion necessary to get ahead in politics.

"Without that intense passion, you can't be successful,'' said Gen. Powell, during a talk to an audience of some 350 people at his July 3 lecture at Kent Center School.

His popularity in the wake of the short and successful Persian Gulf war made his one of the first names raised when Republicans were seeking a presidential candidate in the mid-1990s.

"I'm still the infantry officer I was 50 years ago," Gen. Powell said. "I decided there were other ways to serve."

In addition to the lack of desire to seek elected office, there is a little matter of age.

"I'm going to be 75 years old. I think I've hit my sell-by date," he admitted.

Gen. Powell's modest disavowal only served to convince Kent residents Michael Danon, who posed the question, and Elaine Freeman that he remains the best man for the job.

"His answer was the reason he should run," Mr. Danon said.

"That's why he appeals to me. He's the genuine article," Ms. Freeman agreed.

His appearance in Kent was part of the annual lecture series sponsored by the Kent Memorial Library.

"He's contributed to all the big decisions of the past decade," said Dr. Henry Kissinger, another former Secretary of State and current Kent resident who introduced Powell.

"Every president knows he can count on Colin Powell..." Dr. Kissinger said. "He is a great American."

Gen. Powell said he remains convinced the United States should use its political and economic influence, so-called soft power, instead of military might to achieve its goals.

"We should use soft power as much as possible. But when hard power is necessary, we have to use it in the right way," he said.

The son of Jamaican immigrants, Gen. Powell, who grew up in the South Bronx, N.Y. credited his success to the public school system in New York, pointing out he attended public schools beginning in kindergarten and finishing with his graduation from the City College of New York.

Unlike most others who achieved such lofty military status, Gen. Powell never attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, instead getting his initial military education through the reserve officers training corps in college.

"It isn't where you start out," Gen Powell concluded. "It's where you end up and what you do along the way."