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Tillerson says Washington 'can be a very mean-spirited town' in farewell speech

Tillerson's remark was met with surprised laughter, then applause.

WASHINGTON — Departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bid farewell to employees Thursday with no mention of his former boss, President Donald Trump, but he did make a plea for kindness in the face of a "mean-spirited town."

"This can be a very mean-spirited town," Tillerson said to surprised laughter, followed by applause. "But you don’t have to choose to participate in that."

He asked the hundreds who gathered to say goodbye in the State Department lobby to undertake everyday acts of kindness.

In his brief remarks, Tillerson referred back to the values he has stressed in most speeches since his first day at the agency — respect and accountability — and offered some parting advice.

"Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess — your personal integrity," said Tillerson. "Only you can relinquish it or allow it to be compromised. Once you have done so, it is very, very hard to regain it. So guard it as the most precious thing you possess."

Following the speech, Tillerson left for his home in Texas, although he will technically retain the title of top U.S. diplomat until the end of the month. All official responsibilities were handed over last week to the department's second-highest ranking official, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

Speculation over Tillerson’s departure had plagued the secretary for more than half of his tenure before Trump fired him last week with an announcement on Twitter.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo was officially nominated by Trump on Wednesday to be Tillerson’s replacement. The president also named seasoned intelligence officer Gina Haspel to be the next CIA director. Both nominations require Senate confirmation.