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David O. McKay

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David O. McKay
David O. McKay.jpg
9th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
April 9, 1951 (1951-04-09) – January 18, 1970 (1970-01-18T18)
Predecessor George Albert Smith
Successor Joseph Fielding Smith
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
August 8, 1950 (1950-08-08) – April 9, 1951 (1951-04-09)
Predecessor George F. Richards
Successor Joseph Fielding Smith
End reason Became President of the Church
Second Counselor in the First Presidency
May 21, 1945 (1945-05-21) – April 4, 1951 (1951-04-04)
Called by George Albert Smith
Successor J. Reuben Clark
End reason Dissolution of First Presidency on the death of George Albert Smith
Second Counselor in the First Presidency
October 11, 1934 (1934-10-11) – May 14, 1945 (1945-05-14)
Called by Heber J. Grant
Predecessor J. Reuben Clark
End reason Dissolution of First Presidency on the death of Heber J. Grant
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 9, 1906 (1906-04-09) – October 11, 1934 (1934-10-11)
Called by Joseph F. Smith
Predecessor Orson F. Whitney
Successor Anthony W. Ivins
End reason Called as Second Counselor in the First Presidency
LDS Church Apostle
April 9, 1906 (1906-04-09) – January 18, 1970 (1970-01-18T18)
Called by Joseph F. Smith
Reason Resignation of Matthias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor from the Quorum of the Twelve; death of Marriner W. Merrill[1]
at end of term
Boyd K. Packer ordained
Personal details
Born David Oman McKay
(1873-09-08)September 8, 1873
Huntsville, Utah Territory, United States
Died January 18, 1970(1970-01-18) (aged 96)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000 (Salt Lake City Cemetery)
Spouse(s) Emma Ray Riggs
Children 7
Parents David McKay
Jennette E. Evans
Signature of David O. McKay

David Oman McKay (September 8, 1873 – January 18, 1970) was an American religious leader and educator who served as the ninth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), serving from 1951 until his death. Ordained an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1906, McKay was a general authority for nearly 64 years, longer than anyone else in LDS Church history, except Eldred G. Smith (though Smith was not active as a general authority for many years).

Early life[edit]

The third child of David McKay and Jennette Eveline Evans McKay, David Oman McKay was born on his father’s farm in Huntsville, Utah Territory, about 10 miles (16 km) east of Ogden. McKay's mother was a Welsh immigrant from Merthyr Tydfil, and his father was a Scottish immigrant from Caithness.[2] In 1880, after McKay’s two older sisters died, his father was called on an LDS mission to his native Scotland, where he proselyted for two years. In his father's absence, McKay took on additional family responsibilities to help his mother.

McKay's grandmother bequeathed $5000 to McKay's mother upon her death and directed that "every cent ... be used for the education of the children."[3] This money allowed McKay, his brother Thomas McKay, and their two sisters to attend the University of Utah. McKay graduated in 1897 as valedictorian and class president.[3]

Immediately afterward he was called on a mission to Great Britain. Like his father, he presided over the Scottish district of the church. Early in his mission, he was impressed by the motto "What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part," which he saw inscribed on a building in Stirling.[2] This message became a source of inspiration for the rest of his life.[4]

Emma Ray McKay (wife)

Upon his return in fall 1899, McKay taught at the high school level at LDS Weber Stake Academy (the predecessor of Weber State University) and became principal in 1902. He married Emma Ray Riggs in the Salt Lake Temple on January 2, 1901. They eventually had seven children, one of whom died as a young child.[5]

For his first three years at Weber, McKay taught mainly religion and literature classes. On April 17, 1902, McKay was appointed principal of Weber succeeding Louis F. Moench, the founding principal who had resigned after nine years at the helm of the institution. One of his first actions as principal was to organize a school paper.[6]

McKay also oversaw the inauguration of sports programs at Weber. In 1905 they won their baseball game against the University of Utah. There were also men's and women's basketball teams organized during McKay's tenure.[7]

In 1905, church apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve due to disagreement over the manifesto forbidding polygamy. In early 1906, apostle Marriner W. Merrill died. With three vacancies in the quorum, George F. Richards, Orson F. Whitney, and McKay were called as apostles in the church's April 1906 general conference. McKay was 32 years old at the time.

Prior to this appointment to full-time church service, McKay had planned on a career in education and educational administration. Even after his appointment, McKay stayed active in education. He continued serving as principal of the Weber Stake Academy until 1908 when he was replaced by Wilford M. McKendrick.[8] McKay stayed on to see new building projects that he had inaugurated completed.[9] He also served on the Weber school's board of trustees until 1922 and on the University of Utah's board of regents from 1921 to 1922.

McKay enjoyed a long, personal friendship with John F. Fitzpatrick, publisher of the Salt Lake Tribune (1924–60). They would meet once a week for breakfast to discuss the betterment of the state of Utah. Fitzpatrick, the architect of the Newspaper Agency Corporation, a joint operating agreement between the Salt Lake Tribune (Kearns Corporation) and the church-owned Deseret News, consulted extensively with McKay to form this mutually beneficial business in 1952.[10]

Member of the Quorum of the Twelve[edit]

McKay while second counselor in the First Presidency (ca.1939)

In October 1906, McKay became an assistant to the superintendent of the Deseret Sunday School Union. At the time, Joseph F. Smith was both President of the Church and Superintendent of the Sunday School, so much of the actual running of the Sunday School was performed by McKay. After Smith died, McKay became the Sunday School superintendent.

In 1920, the First Presidency assigned McKay to make a worldwide tour of the missions of the church with Hugh J. Cannon. They dedicated China for the preaching of the gospel, traveled to Hawaii where McKay first had the vision that led to the founding of BYU–Hawaii many years later, and visited Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and Palestine. In Palestine they met up with Wilford Booth and visited Armenian Latter-day Saints. McKay arrived back in Utah on Christmas Eve, 1921. The details of this 61,646-mile journey are recorded in an account by Hugh Cannon.[11]

From 1923 until 1925, McKay served as president of the church's European Mission, headquartered in London. In this capacity, he had direct responsibility over all church functions in the British Isles and supervisory functions over mission presidents on the European continent. It was while in this position that McKay first used the slogan "every member a missionary" for the promotion of outreach. The philosophy has since become a standard practice in every unit of the church.

In 1934, McKay was called as second counselor in the First Presidency by Heber J. Grant. He also served as second counselor to George Albert Smith.[12]

Influence on education[edit]

Within the leadership of the LDS Church, McKay maintained his focus on education. As General Superintendent of the church's Sunday School organization from 1918 to 1934, McKay built LDS seminary buildings near public high schools throughout the state of Utah. Adjacent seminary buildings allowed students to take LDS religious courses along with their secular high school education. McKay also transferred three LDS colleges to the state of Utah in the 1920s: Snow College, Weber State University and Dixie College. Utah underfunded the institutions and in 1953 the governor, J. Bracken Lee, offered to give them back to the LDS Church. McKay, then president of the church, said he would accept them, but the proposal failed on voter referendum.

McKay guided the remaining LDS school in Utah, Brigham Young University (BYU) into a full four-year university. McKay was the fourth Commissioner of Church Education in 1920 and 1921.

Besides church education, McKay stressed missionary work, and traveled Europe extensively.

Grant chose McKay to serve as Second Counselor in the First Presidency in 1934. He served in the presidency under church presidents Grant and Smith until 1951. In 1950 he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, being the second most senior apostle after the church's president. He was ordained president of the church on April 9, 1951 upon Smith's death.[13]

In honor of his years of dedicated service as an educator, the BYU School of Education was named the McKay School of Education. Weber State University's school of education is housed in a building that carries his name.

President of the LDS Church[edit]

McKay became president of the LDS Church when he was 77 years old. He acted in this capacity for 19 years, until his death. In this period, the number of members and stakes in the church nearly tripled, from 1.1 million to 2.8 million, and 184 to 500 respectively.

McKay was outspoken in his opposition to communism, which he saw as philosophically opposed to faith given its atheist underpinnings and its denial of freedom of choice. Furthermore, communist nations generally forbid proselytizing by the church and most other religions.

In 1951, McKay began plans for building what would one-day become BYU-Hawaii. In 1921, McKay had promised the church would build a school near its temple in Hawaii.

In 1954, McKay made a trip around the world visiting countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Fiji, and Tonga.

Under McKay's administration, the LDS Church's stance on Africans holding the priesthood was softened. Beginning in the mid-1950s, members of suspected African descent no longer needed to prove their lineage was not African. Instead, the church allowed dark-skinned members to hold the priesthood unless it was proved that they were of African descent. This policy made proselytizing and priesthood ordination much easier in racially mixed areas, such as South America and South Africa. Blacks of verifiable African descent (including most in the United States) were not permitted to hold the priesthood until eight years after McKay's death.

During his tenure as president, the church spearheaded the Priesthood Correlation Program in 1961. By the 1970s, priesthood quorums directed women-led organizations like the Relief Society at all levels. Such organization became known as auxiliary organizations. Priesthood correlation continues in the church today.

Famous film director Cecil B. DeMille consulted with McKay during the production of The Ten Commandments. They formed a friendship that would last until DeMille's death. McKay invited DeMille to BYU, where he delivered a commencement address in 1957.

McKay kept a steady pace of travel until he entered his 90s. His deteriorating health in the mid-1960s ultimately led to the appointment of three additional counselors in the First Presidency, as existing members were increasingly infirm and often unable to preside at church meetings. By 1968, the First Presidency was composed of six members, which made the body larger than it had been since the death of Brigham Young in 1877. McKay's counselors in the First Presidency were Stephen L Richards (First Counselor, 1951–59); J. Reuben Clark, Jr. (Second Counselor (1951–59, First Counselor 1959–61); Henry D. Moyle (Second Counselor 1959–61, First Counselor 1961–63); Hugh B. Brown (Third Counselor 1961, Second Counselor 1961–63, First Counselor 1963–70); N. Eldon Tanner (Second Counselor, 1963–70); Thorpe B. Isaacson (Counselor, 1965–70); Joseph Fielding Smith (Counselor, 1965–70); Alvin R. Dyer (Counselor, 1968–70).


McKay died on January 18, 1970, at age 96 and was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Family ties[edit]

McKay had multiple family ties to other influential Latter-day Saints and Utahns. His younger brother, Thomas Evans McKay (1875–1958), was a prominent missionary and mission leader for the LDS Church in Switzerland and Germany. He also served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1941 to 1958.

McKay's niece, Fawn McKay Brodie, was the author of the controversial book No Man Knows My History, a highly critical biography of church founder Joseph Smith, the publication of which led to her eventual excommunication from the LDS Church.

McKay's oldest son, David Lawrence McKay, was the eighth general superintendent of the LDS Church's Sunday School organization. When his father was ill, David often read his father's sermons during general conference.

One of McKay's granddaughters is Joyce McKay Bennett[14] the wife of former United States Senator Bob Bennett. Another grandchild, Alan Ashton, was the co-founder and half-owner of WordPerfect, which was eventually sold off to Novell and then to Corel.[15]

A building at Utah Valley University in Orem, the David O. McKay Events Center, was named for McKay after an anonymous multimillion-dollar contribution was given in his honor.[citation needed]


McKay was concerned with missionary work, and coined the phrase "[e]very member a missionary"[16] in order to encourage church members to become more engaged in that work, and not just leave it to the full-time missionaries.[17]

McKay's statement that "[n]o other success can compensate for failure in the home"[18] is taught to LDS Church members as an important principle.[19]

McKay's teachings as an apostle were the 2005 course of study in the LDS Church's Sunday Relief Society and Melchizedek priesthood classes.


  • McKay, David O. (1953). Gospel Ideals: Selections from the Discourses of David O. McKay. selected by G. Homer Durham. Improvement Era. 
  • McKay, David O. (1955). Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay. compiled by Clare Middlemiss. Deseret Book. 
  • McKay, David O. (1957). Pathways to Happiness. compiled by Llewelyn R. McKay. Bookcraft. 
  • McKay, David O. (1959). Home Memories of President David O. McKay. compiled by Llewelyn R. McKay. Deseret Book. 
  • McKay, David O. (1960). Secrets of a Happy Life. compiled by Llewelyn R. McKay. Prentice Hall. 
  • McKay, David O. (1962). Treasures of Life. compiled by Clare M. Middlemiss. Deseret Book. 
  • McKay, David O. (1964). Ancient Apostles. Deseret Book. 
  • McKay, David O. (1966). True to the Faith: From the Sermons and Discourses of David O. McKay. compiled by Llewelyn R. McKay. Bookcraft. 
  • McKay, David O. (1967). Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay. compiled by Clare Middlemiss. Deseret Book. 
  • McKay, David O. (1971). Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life. compiled by Llewelyn R. McKay. Deseret Book. 
  • McKay, David O. (1973). "My Young Friends...": President McKay Speaks to Youth. Bookcraft. 
  • McKay, David O. (1999). Stan Larson and Patricia Larson., ed. What E'er Thou Art Act Well Thy Part: The Mission Diaries of David O. McKay. Blue Ribbon Books. 
  • McKay, David O. (2004). Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  LDS Church publication number 36492.


  1. ^ George F. Richards and Orson F. Whitney were called at the same time as McKay to fill the three vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve.
  2. ^ a b "Church to display historical stone". 20 April 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Prince & Wright (2005), p. 6.
  4. ^ Cook, Quentin L (4 March 2012). "What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part: Avoid Wearing Masks That Hide Identity". Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Prince & Wright (2005), p. 8.
  6. ^ Morrill 1966, p. 50
  7. ^ Morrill 1966, p. 52
  8. ^ Andrew Jenson. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1941) p. 931
  9. ^ Morrill 1966, pp. 54–55
  10. ^ Malmquist, O.N.:The First 100 Years, pp. 374–380.[full citation needed]
  11. ^ Cannon, Hugh J. (2011). Neilson, Reid L, ed. To the Peripheries of Mormondom: The Apostolic Around-the-World Journey of David O. McKay, 1920–1921. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. ISBN 978-1-60781-010-0. OCLC 495780038. [page needed]
  12. ^ Richard O. Cowan. The Church In The Twentieth Century. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985) p. 235–237.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Prince & Wright 2005, p. xvi
  15. ^ Jesse McKinley and Kirk Johnson, "Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage", New York Times, 2008-11-14.
  16. ^ Conference Report, April 1959, p. 122.
  17. ^ "Lesson 41: Every Member a Missionary", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual, 1999, pp. 237–42 
  18. ^ Quoted from J. E. McCullough, Home: The Savior of Civilization [1924], 42; Conference Report, April 1935, p. 116.
  19. ^ "President David O. McKay: No Other Success Can Compensate for Failure in the Home", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, LDS Church, 2005, p. 199 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
George Albert Smith
President of the Church
April 9, 1951 – January 18, 1970
Succeeded by
Joseph Fielding Smith
Preceded by
George F. Richards
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
August 8, 1950 – April 9, 1951
Preceded by
J. Reuben Clark
Second Counselor in the First Presidency
May 21, 1945 – April 4, 1951
October 11, 1934 – May 14, 1945
Succeeded by
J. Reuben Clark
Preceded by
Orson F. Whitney
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 9, 1906 – April 9, 1951
Succeeded by
Anthony W. Ivins