Ralph McKay: Willing Hands
January 1989

“Ralph McKay: Willing Hands,” Ensign, Jan. 1989, 65

Ralph McKay: Willing Hands

His hands patiently work the chrome hand-pieces causing the wheelchair to glide along Pages Lane in Bountiful, Utah. He often waves to those who pass him on their way. Ralph McKay is a familiar sight to many in this community.

Two serious accidents in Brother McKay’s life have only deepened his desire to live a useful, successful life.

At the age of four, Ralph nearly drowned, and he suffered irreversible brain damage. Though he was determined to continue as normally as possible, some schoolmates called him retarded and teased him. But in church, he assisted the junior Sunday School coordinator by passing out hymnbooks and setting up the microphone. He graduated from high school in the special education program but never learned to read well. He found work at Deseret Industries.

Then came his second accident.

During a terrific windstorm 2 April 1976, as Ralph helped to empty Deseret Industries salvage huts in supermarket parking lots, the hurling east wind tipped over a hut onto Ralph, paralyzing him instantly.

Only the previous day, in response to a plea for ward building fund donations, Ralph had said to his bishop, “Here’s the money I’ve saved for a ten-speed bike. I won’t need it for a while.” How tragically prophetic!

For six months, Ralph lay in the hospital. On his birthday, every junior Sunday School child in his ward made a card for him. His elders quorum bought a portable TV to entertain him. His home teachers and other ward members spent family home evenings at the hospital with him. Upon Ralph’s release from the hospital, priesthood brethren in his ward helped his father construct a wheelchair ramp to the porch of the family home for Ralph.

Ralph soon rejoined his friends at the South Davis Regional Aaronic Priesthood MIA for the Handicapped. They asked him to play the title role in Scrooge, the Christmas play they planned for parents and friends. Ralph, who memorizes easily, was eager to fill this assignment, but his doctor dashed his hopes: Ralph was to stay in bed, on his stomach, so he could avoid surgery on a stubborn back ulcer. The doctor said, “You are allowed to be in your wheelchair only twice during December.”

Unwilling to disappoint the MIA, Ralph agreed to stay in bed for the Christmas festivities and save his two times up for dress rehearsal and the production. He memorized the script as his mother read him his lines. Ralph carried the play, with his strong, clear voice and his “Bah-humbug!”

Ralph was soon back helping in junior Sunday School, walking with braces to build his strength. However, he is now confined completely to his wheelchair.

At age thirty, Ralph mastered reading, never realizing how this skill would benefit his mother.

Sister McKay suffered a stroke that took her eyesight. As she had cared for him for years, he now cares for her. From his wheelchair, he vacuums and dusts, counts out her medication, and sets the dials on the stove and washing machine. But his greatest thrill is reading to his mother from the scriptures and helping her with her genealogy.

Now, as Sister McKay is beginning to recover some of her eyesight, she is encouraging Ralph to reach out with his patient service, perhaps in the family history extraction program.

Ralph tells his mother, “They thought I was dead, and then they let me live. I’m sure the reason I lived was to help you.”

  • Dora D. Flack, a free-lance writer, serves with her husband as a full-time volunteer with the Family-to-Family Book of Mormon Program.

Photography by Ann Florence