The Daily News is proud to have named Dr. Philip Keiser as its 34th annual Citizen of the Year.
During an event Thursday night in Dickinson, Keiser was honored along with 19 other finalists nominated by members of the community to stand for the award.
Naming the one from among that group of worthy citizens was a hard decision for the panel of judges who reviewed and ranked each of the 20 applications.
Ultimately, no other nominee contributed more to the public good over the preceding year than Keiser.
As the local health authority, Keiser is the top public health official in Galveston County. He’s responsible, among other things, for leading public efforts to battle communicable diseases.
That’s always an important job but not typically an all-consuming one. It’s also typically not a full-time job. Along with the public health post, Keiser is a practicing physician and a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
The nature of the local health authority’s job changed dramatically in March last year when the first case of COVID-19 infection appeared in Galveston County.
Keiser was thrust into the middle of a global war against a pathogen humankind had never seen before.
He became responsible for leading public efforts to keep COVID-19 from exploding among more than 300,000 county residents and overwhelming local hospitals.
He became the main voice and face of Galveston County’s response to a public health crisis of a scale not seen for about 100 years.
Keiser met that challenge with a calm, measured urgency the judges and editors believe was exactly the right approach.
His public statements during the pandemic left no doubt for anyone willing to listen that the community faced a serious threat, without hyping or otherwise overstating the situation.
Work of the Galveston County Health District, which Keiser helps oversee, was organized, professional and effective. It served the community well during a time of crisis.
Largely because of work by Keiser and the health district, Galveston County consistently performed among the best in the state in keeping infection rates under control and in inoculating thousands of people in a matter of weeks after vaccines became available.
Thousands of people, including health professionals and members of the general public who worked at the county’s mass vaccination site, contributed to Galveston County’s success in managing the COVID-19 crisis.
It was a remarkable and inspiring community effort. In honoring Keiser, we also honor and thank those thousands who are not named on the plaque but who rose to the call and did what needed doing.
Likewise, we honor and thank the 19 finalists nominated along with Keiser. They represent a cross-section of the community, and seeing so many doing such good work day in and day out makes us proud and gives us hope for the future.
• Michael A. Smith