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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)
PredecessorGeorge Albert Smith
SuccessorJoseph Fielding Smith
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
(with Joseph Fielding Smith as Acting President)
August 8, 1950 (1950-08-08) – April 9, 1951 (1951-04-09)
PredecessorGeorge F. Richards
SuccessorJoseph Fielding Smith
End reasonBecame President of the Church
Second Counselor in the First Presidency
May 21, 1945 (1945-05-21) – April 4, 1951 (1951-04-04)
Called byGeorge Albert Smith
SuccessorJ. Reuben Clark
End reasonDissolution 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 byHeber J. Grant
PredecessorJ. Reuben Clark
End reasonDissolution 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 byJoseph F. Smith
End reasonCalled as Second Counselor in the First Presidency
LDS Church Apostle
April 9, 1906 (1906-04-09) – January 18, 1970 (1970-01-18T18)
Called byJoseph F. Smith
ReasonResignation 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
BornDavid Oman McKay
(1873-09-08)September 8, 1873
Huntsville, Utah Territory, United States
DiedJanuary 18, 1970(1970-01-18) (aged 96)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Resting placeSalt 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)
Alma materUniversity of Utah
(m. 1901)
ParentsDavid McKay
Jennette E. Evans
Signature of David O. McKay

David Oman McKay (September 8, 1873 – January 18, 1970)[2] 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) from 1951 until his death in 1970. Ordained an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1906,[3] McKay was a general authority for nearly 64 years, longer than anyone else in LDS Church history,[4] except Eldred G. Smith (though Smith was not active as a general authority for many years).[5]

Early life[edit]

The third child of David McKay and Jennette Eveline Evans McKay, 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][6] In 1880, after the death of McKay’s two older sisters, Margaret and Ellena, his father was called on an LDS mission to his native Scotland, where he proselytized for two years. In his father's absence, McKay had additional family responsibilities and helped his mother.[2]

McKay's grandmother bequeathed $5,000 to McKay's mother upon her death and directed that "every cent ... be used for the education of the children."[7] This money allowed McKay, his brother Thomas, and his younger sisters Jeanette and Annie to attend the University of Utah. McKay graduated in 1897 as valedictorian and class president.[7][4]

Immediately afterward, he was called on a mission to Great Britain.[8][9] Like his father, he presided over the Scottish district of the church.[4] Early in his mission, he was impressed by a motto he saw inscribed on a building in Stirling, "What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part".[10] This message became a source of inspiration throughout his life.[11]

Career in education[edit]

McKay as principal of Weber Stake Academy (now Weber State University), c. 1905.

Upon his return in fall 1899, McKay taught at the high school level at LDS Weber Stake Academy (predecessor of Weber State University). He married Emma Ray Riggs in the Salt Lake Temple on January 2, 1901. They eventually had seven children, one dying as a young child.[12]

Emma Ray McKay (wife)

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 the founding principal, Louis F. Moench, who had resigned after nine years in the position. One of his first actions as principal was to organize a school paper.[13]

McKay also oversaw the inauguration of sports programs at Weber, with men's and women's basketball teams organized during McKay's tenure.[14] In 1905, they won their baseball game against the University of Utah.

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, and apostle Marriner W. Merrill died in early 1906. With three vacancies, George F. Richards, Orson F. Whitney, and McKay were called as apostles in the LDS Church's April 1906 general conference. McKay was 32 at the time.

Prior to this appointment to full-time service, McKay had planned on a career in education and educational administration. Even after his appointment, McKay stayed active in education, continuing as principal of the Weber Stake Academy until 1908, replaced by Wilford M. McKendrick.[15] McKay stayed at Weber Stake Academy to see the completion of some new building projects that he had begun.[16] 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 (1924–1960). They met weekly for breakfast to discuss the betterment of Utah. Fitzpatrick organized the Newspaper Agency Corporation, a joint operating agreement between the Salt Lake Tribune (Kearns Corporation) and the church-owned Deseret News, and consulted extensively with McKay to form this mutually beneficial business in 1952.[17]

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 many of the actual duties of the Sunday School were performed by McKay. After Smith's death, McKay became the Sunday School superintendent.

In 1920, the First Presidency assigned McKay to make a worldwide tour of the missions of the LDS Church with Hugh J. Cannon, who recorded the journey of some 61,646 miles.[18] They opened a new mission to China, traveled to Hawaii (where McKay had a vision, promising to build a school near the temple),[citation needed] and visited Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and Palestine. In Palestine they met Wilford Booth and visited Armenian Latter-day Saints. McKay returned to Utah on Christmas Eve, 1921.

From 1923 until 1925, McKay served as president of the church's European Mission, headquartered in London, with the responsibility of all LDS Church functions in the British Isles and supervision of mission presidents. In this position, McKay first used the slogan "every member a missionary" for outreach promotion. The philosophy has since become a standard practice in every unit of the church.[citation needed][speculation?]

In 1934, McKay became Second Counselor in the First Presidency by Heber J. Grant, and Second Counselor to George Albert Smith.[19]

Influence on education[edit]

Within the leadership of the LDS Church, McKay focused on education. As General Superintendent of the church's Sunday School organization from 1918 to 1934, McKay built LDS seminaries near public high schools throughout Utah, allowing 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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 set apart as president of the church on April 9, 1951 upon Smith's death.[20]

In honor of his service, the BYU School of Education was named the McKay School of Education. Weber State University's school of education also carries his name.

President of the LDS Church[edit]

McKay became president of the LDS Church at 77, and served in that capacity for 19 years until his death. During this time, the number of members and stakes in the LDS Church nearly tripled, from 1.1 million to 2.8 million, and 184 to 500 respectively.

McKay was an outspoken critic of communism, opposing its perceived atheist underpinnings and denial of freedom of choice. Similarly, communist nations generally forbid proselytizing by the LDS Church and most other religions.

In 1951, McKay began plans for what eventually became BYU-Hawaii. In 1954, McKay made another trip around the world, visiting Brazil, South Africa, Fiji, Tonga, and other countries.

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, allowing dark-skinned members to receive the priesthood unless it was proved that they were of African descent. This policy improved proselytizing 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.

Beginning in 1961, the LDS Church spearheaded the Priesthood Correlation Program. By the 1970s, women-led organizations like the Relief Society at all levels, under priesthood oversight. Such organization became known as auxiliary organizations, which continue to the present.

Famous film director Cecil B. DeMille consulted with McKay during the production of The Ten Commandments, forming a friendship until DeMille's death. McKay invited DeMille to BYU, where he delivered a commencement address in 1957.[citation needed]

McKay regularly traveled until 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 meetings. By 1968, the First Presidency was composed of six members, larger than it had been at 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 from acute congestion, surrounded by most of his family. He had lived longer than any previous leader of the Church. Funeral services were later held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. McKay was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.[citation needed]

Family ties[edit]

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 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, his son David often read his father's sermons during general conference.

One of McKay's granddaughters is Joyce McKay Bennett,[21] wife of former United States Senator Bob Bennett. Another grandchild, Alan Ashton, was the co-founder and co-owner of WordPerfect.[22]

A building at Utah Valley University in Orem, the David O. McKay Events Center, was formerly named for McKay between 1996 and 2010 after an anonymous donation was given in his honor.[23]


McKay was concerned with missionary work, and coined the phrase "[e]very member a missionary"[24] in order to encourage church members to become more engaged in that work, and not just leave it to the full-time missionaries.[25]

McKay's statement that "[n]o other success can compensate for failure in the home"[26] is taught to LDS Church members as an important principle.[27]

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 c "The Life and Ministry of David O. McKay". Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  3. ^ "Church Presidents". 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  4. ^ a b c "McKay, David O." Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  5. ^ "Longest-serving Mormon general authority dies at 106". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
  6. ^ Jenson, Andrew (1920). Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A. Jenson History Company.
  7. ^ a b Prince & Wright (2005), p. 6.
  8. ^ "The Life and Ministry of David O. McKay". Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  9. ^ Prince, Gregory A.; Wright, William Robert; Wright, Wm Robert (2005). David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. University of Utah Press. ISBN 9780874808223.
  10. ^ "Church to display historical stone". 20 April 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Prince & Wright (2005), p. 8.
  13. ^ Morrill 1966, p. 50
  14. ^ Morrill 1966, p. 52
  15. ^ Andrew Jenson. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1941) p. 931
  16. ^ Morrill 1966, pp. 54–55
  17. ^ Malmquist, O.N.:The First 100 Years, pp. 374–380.[full citation needed]
  18. ^ 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]
  19. ^ Richard O. Cowan. The Church In The Twentieth Century. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985) p. 235–237.
  20. ^ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  21. ^ Prince & Wright 2005, p. xvi
  22. ^ Jesse McKinley and Kirk Johnson, "Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage", The New York Times, 2008-11-14.
  23. ^, UVU selling naming rights to David O McKay Events Center
  24. ^ Conference Report, April 1959, p. 122.
  25. ^ "Lesson 41: Every Member a Missionary", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual, 1999, pp. 237–42
  26. ^ Quoted from J. E. McCullough, Home: The Savior of Civilization [1924], 42; Conference Report, April 1935, p. 116.
  27. ^ "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]

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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