Dr. Philip Keiser didn’t ask to be the face of the pandemic in Galveston County. But when COVID-19 reached us, it was Keiser, the county’s local health authority, who was thrust into the spotlight.

For more than a year, that’s mostly where he’s stayed — spending untold hours consulting with community leaders and organizing plans for community testing, case tracking and, eventually, mass vaccinations.

Among local health officials, Keiser has been the most visible person on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.

For those efforts, Keiser was named the 2021 Galveston County Daily News Citizen of the Year.

Keiser was named the winner of the award during a ceremony in Dickinson on Thursday evening.

“It’s been transformative,” Keiser said about the last year of his life. “I’ve learned to be more patient, more thoughtful and more ruthless when I’ve had to be. I’ve learned to put the good of the cause and the people above my own interests.”

Keiser has been the Galveston County local health authority since 2016 and earlier this year was named the interim president executive director of the Galveston County Health District.

He’s an active physician and professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

During the pandemic, Keiser acted as a kind of bridge between the medical board, the county’s largest health care provider, and the health district, the county’s public health department and the agency charged with responding to disease outbreaks.

Generally, the job of health authority is a part-time job, but the pandemic has thrust Keiser into a more prominent position.

Keiser had played a part in nearly every aspect of the county’s response to the virus, from tracking initial outbreaks to guiding vaccination efforts.

While accepting the award Thursday night, Keiser also lauded the work of his colleagues at the medical branch and the health district, as well as the volunteers who helped spearhead the county’s mass vaccination efforts at Walter Hall Park in League City.

“The one thing I’ve learned through the whole thing is that this is a group effort,” Keiser said.

Keiser was one of 20 finalists named as nominees for the newspaper’s annual award, which it has given out since 1988. The other nominees included business owners, politicians, faith leaders, teachers and artists.

The award ceremony also honored Dr. William Johnson, the late horticulturist who was the county’s agricultural extension agent, founder of the county’s iconic master gardener program and, for nearly 30 years, the author of the gardening column in The Daily News.

Johnson died in February.

Johnson’s writing informed and inspired countless readers over decades, Galveston County Daily News Editor Michael Smith said during the ceremony.

“He informed, inspired and empowered generations of Daily News readers to get their hands dirty in the ancient pursuit of horticulture, and he did it very well,” Smith said.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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