Every year since 1948, Gallup has polled Americans to find out what man and what woman they most admire. As you might expect, incumbent or sitting presidents and First Ladies usually top the list (one notable exception: Donald Trump only topped the list once, in 2020). Barack Obama and Dwight Eisenhower tie for the most selections as most admired man (each chosen 12 times), followed by a tie between Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (8 times). As for most admired woman, Hillary Clinton has been chosen 22 times, dramatically surpassing Eleanor Roosevelt (13), Margaret Thatcher (6) and Jacqueline Kennedy (5).
Maybe the more interesting poll was in 1999, when Gallup surveyed the most admired person of the 20th Century. Topping the list was Mother Teresa, followed by Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein and Helen Keller. (The next five: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Billy Graham, Pope John Paul II, Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.) Note the difference: This list did not just consist of who was admired and in power, but also extraordinary people whose accomplishments touch us at a human level. I’m thinking particularly about Mother Teresa and Helen Keller.
I admit that many of my dispatches have focused on some of the least admirable people among us, with the belief that by shining a light on them we can work to make things better. But this discussion thread is a chance to think differently and reflect on who among us deserve the spotlight for their admirable qualities. So here’s the question: Who do you admire most—and why? Feel free to mention people we all know, but also don’t hesitate to share someone who is not famous (perhaps a friend or a family member) yet possesses the qualities that you most admire. My hope: We can be reminded of admirable people and remember the kind of qualities that can improve our world.
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Photo: Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
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