Tillerson urges 'kindness' in a 'mean-spirited town' during farewell remarks

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHow the US could respond to Russia's support of the Taliban Trump insulted UK's May, called Germany's Merkel 'stupid' in calls: report McEnany: Trump likes to hire people with 'countervailing viewpoints' MORE on Thursday praised the department's employees and urged "kindness" in what he called "a very mean-spirited town" during his final remarks as the nation's chief diplomat.

Tillerson emphasized values of respect and dignity and called for employees to perform "one act of kindness" each day.

"This can be a very mean-spirited town," Tillerson said to a round of laughs and applause. "But you don’t have to choose to participate in that."

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The remarks came more than a week after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE unceremoniously fired Tillerson in a tweet, and simultaneously announced that he had tapped CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report To support Hong Kong's freedom, remember America's revolution Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE for the post.

“Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity,” Tillerson said Thursday, adding, “Only you can relinquish it or allow it to be compromised. Once you’ve done so, it is very, very hard to regain it.”

“I hope you will continue to treat each other with respect,” he continued. “Regardless of the job title, the station in life or your role, everyone is important to the State Department. We’re all just human beings trying to do our part.”

Notably absent from Tillerson's remarks was any mention of Trump by name — the second time since his firing that he declined to acknowledge the president in public comments.

His personal relationship with Trump never recovered after Tillerson refused on multiple occasions to deny reports he called Trump a "moron" following a national security meeting.

Trump on Twitter offered to "compare IQ tests" with Tillerson after reports of the comment surfaced in October.

While he is technically set to terminate his commission as secretary of State on March 31, Tillerson is expected to leave Washington and return to his home state of Texas before then.

The secretary has been in Foggy Bottom intermittently since his firing last week to complete paperwork and assist with the transition process. 

In his address, Tillerson urged resilience in the face of mounting national security and foreign policy challenges.

“The country faces many challenges. In some instances perplexing foreign affairs relationships, and in other instances, serious national security threats,” he said. “In these times, your continued diligence and devotion to the State Department’s mission has never been more necessary.”

Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO, often had a difficult tenure at the State Department, sparring with Trump on key foreign policy issues, like the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, and facing criticism for his management of the agency, which included massive reductions in staff and key positions left unfilled.

But after he concluded his remarks on Thursday, Tillerson left the State Department to several minutes of applause, as he shook the hands of employees on his way out the door.