As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said goodbye on Thursday, he urged State Department employees to stay honest and be kind to one another, despite their “mean-spirited town.”
After imploring his staff to continue doing their duties, Tillerson issued a warning: “Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity,” he said in his farewell speech.
The short talk reflected Tillerson’s tumultuous time in office. President Donald Trump fired the former Exxon CEO on March 13, barely one year after he was confirmed. Tillerson officially learned that he was being replaced through a tweet from the President.
Tillerson will remain Secretary of State until March 31, according to the Washington Post, but has already handed over day-to-day operations to his deputy, John Sullivan.
Throughout his time at the State Department, Tillerson had a strained relationship with Trump, starting with his own reluctance to take the position and continuing through the President publicly criticizing him a number of times in recent months. Still, Tillerson insisted earlier this year that he would not be leaving and told CNN he intended to stay through the end of 2018.
After his firing, the Daily Beast reported that Chief of Staff John Kelly had told Tillerson about Trump’s tweet while the Secretary of State was on the toilet, a story that for many seemed to represent the devolving relationship between Tillerson and the White House. Tillerson’s final speech on Thursday remained restrained, but he did tell his staff to rise above Washington gossip and antics.
“In these times, your continued diligence and devotion to the State Department’s mission has never been more necessary,” he said. “As you go about your duties, each of you carrying out your individual responsibilities as well as your collective duty, it is my hope that you will be guided by and test your actions each day against the values that we have spoken about over this past year.”
Tillerson also reminded staffers that their integrity is something others in the administration cannot take away. “Only you can relinquish it or allow it to be compromised. Once you’ve done so it is very, very hard to regain it,” he said during the speech.
“In closing I’d like to ask that each of you undertake to ensure one act of kindness each day towards another person. This can be a very mean-spirited town,” he added. “But you don’t have to choose to participate in that. Each of us get to choose the person we want to be, and the way we want to be treated, and the way we will treat others.”