The list of memorable events from this last year is a long one that includes the ongoing pandemic, the Olympics, the start of a new presidential administration, the billionaire space race, and countless more. Out of these moments come key figures who’ve been a part of and helped shape the public conversations of 2021.
Given all that’s happened in the last year, it might be impossible to unanimously agree on just one person who deserves the person of the year title, but we still wanted to know who Boston.com readers thought was the most influential figure of 2021.
We asked Boston.com readers who they would pick as their 2021 person of the year and they came up with a list of names who’ve had both local and global impacts.
Some readers wanted to give a shout-out to local politicians like Charlie Baker and Michelle Wu, the latter of whom was named one of the Boston Globe’s 2021 Bostonians of the Year. Other people nominated by readers include celebrities like Dolly Parton (one of People‘s People of the Year) and Tyler Perry as well as public figures who made headlines this year like Senators Liz Cheney and Joe Manchin.
This year’s Time magazine pick for Person of the Year was Elon Musk, the billionaire businessman. The magazine called the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive officer “our avatar of infinite possibility” in their profile of him, and praised him for his innovative — and often controversial — approach to business. Some readers felt the honor was well-deserved.
“The SpaceX landings were engineering marvels and the growing numbers of Teslas on the road show that Musk is providing a clear alternative to traditional gas-burning cars,” said Maureen from Magnolia in Gloucester. “Also great at SNL hosting and off-the-cuff quips when called upon. Tony Stark lives.”
We asked readers if they felt the magazine had made the right pick and most readers polled said it should have gone to someone more worthy of the title.
One reader suggested that after another year marred by COVID-19, a better pick would have been a nod to essential workers.
“I think I would go with a collective ‘health care workers,’ said a reader. “I know Musk makes good copy, but who, in the middle of a once-a-century pandemic could possibly be more consequential than the folks who are on the front lines of the fight to end it?”
Healthcare workers were popular reader suggestions for 2021 person of the year, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the most trusted health expert in the country. Fauci was the public figure most readers picked as the hero of the year in 2020.
However, the event and figure that made the most impact on readers were from the very first week of 2021 when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.
Eugene Goodman, the Capitol Hill police officer who defended the Capitol against rioters during the Jan. 6 attack, was suggested by most readers as 2021 person of the year. One reader said they picked Goodman because he “stopped domestic terrorists from attacking U.S. senators.”
Below you’ll find a sampling of what people had to say about their 2021 person of the year picks and why they feel they’re deserving of the lofty title.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.
Eugene Goodman and other Capitol Hill police officers
“He and the other police that day put their lives on the line to protect our democracy. They did so with little assistance for several hours.” — Teresa K., Dedham
“Officer Goodman was already being praised for his bravery that day after single-handedly steering a mob away from the Senate chambers. Video footage showed him just steps ahead of rioters as they chase him up a flight of stairs. Mr. Goodman is then seen glancing towards the Senate entrance before luring the men in the opposite direction.” — Tracey A., Boston
“He stood up to the mob Jan. 6 to save our democracy. He’s a true hero!” — Anonymous
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals
“Educators, nurses, and mental health professionals across the U.S. deserve ‘People of the Year.’ We are the caretakers of the youth mental health crisis, guardians of the LGBTQ movement, and givers of help, safety, sanity, joy, and hope to the forgotten group of the pandemic: the children. All of this, while remaining the scourge and scapegoat in society’s eyes.” — Kara H., Chelmsford
“They’ve worked through the entire pandemic and gotten nothing but grief for their trouble. And they still show up. They’re burned out beyond belief and the media just castigates them.” — Lucy G., Lexington
“Because two years later we’re dealing with the same BS but less people care. We deserved it over Biden in 2020 and we still deserve the title.” — Michelle, Chelmsford
Dr. Anthony Fauci
“He has guided us through the pandemic using science as the guide. His honesty and integrity have been steadfast even when his former boss was trying to spin lies. He is respectful and brilliant. He’s the kind of person that should be held up as Person of the Year, not a blasphemous, egomaniac.” — Ben M., Roxbury
“He has been working non-stop to help this country get through the pandemic [and is] an unselfish person.” — Thomas K., Braintree
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.