“Chapter 9: David O. McKay: Ninth President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (2004), 144–60
“Chapter 9,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 144–60
He was born 8 September 1873 in Huntsville, Weber County, Utah, to David and Jennette Eveline Evans McKay.
President Brigham Young died (29 Aug. 1877).
He was president and valedictorian of his graduating class at the University of Utah (June 1897).
He served a mission to Scotland (1897–99).
He married Emma Ray Riggs (2 Jan. 1901).
He was ordained an Apostle by President Joseph F. Smith (9 Apr. 1906).
His first book, Ancient Apostles, was published (1917).
He became general superintendent of the Sunday School (1918–34).
He was Church Commissioner of Education (1919–21).
He saw a vision of a celestial city during a world tour (10 May 1921).
He served as president of the European Mission (1922–24).
He was a counselor to President Heber J. Grant (6 Oct. 1934; he later served as a counselor to President George Albert Smith; 21 May 1945).
He was sustained as President of the Church (9 Apr. 1951).
He visited nine European countries (1952).
He dedicated the Bern Switzerland Temple (11 Sept. 1955); he dedicated the Los Angeles California Temple (11 Mar. 1956).
He dedicated the Hamilton New Zealand Temple and the Church College of New Zealand (20 Apr. 1958); he dedicated the London England Temple (7 Sept. 1958).
He dedicated the Church College of Hawaii (Dec. 1958); he issued his well-known statement “Every Member a Missionary” (Apr. 1959).
He announced that members of the First Council of the Seventy were to be ordained high priests; Church correlation began (1961).
The home teaching program was introduced (Jan. 1964).
He dedicated the Oakland California Temple (17 Nov. 1964).
He called the first regional representatives of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1967).
He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (18 Jan. 1970).
When David Oman McKay was born on 8 September 1873, Brigham Young was the President of the Church. He learned the virtue of hard work from his father, who was a farmer. Faith in the gospel was ingrained in his heart by the precepts, example, and endurance he saw in his family.
The McKay (or MacKay) clan originated in the northern highlands of Scotland. There was a royalty of character in this lineage. David’s grandparents and parents demonstrated in their conversion to the Church an unswerving loyalty to the gospel.
“When [David O. McKay] was eight years of age, his father received a call to go on a mission. To accept such a call for two or three years away from home was no easy decision to make. Another baby was on its way, and plans had been made to enlarge the house and furnishings. The responsibilities of running the farm were too great to be left to his wife, so when David showed the letter calling him to a mission, he said: ‘Of course it is impossible for me to go.’ Jennette read the letter, looked at her husband, and said decisively: ‘Of course you must accept; you need not worry about me. David O. and I will manage things nicely!’ …
“… In the absence of his father, the boy David quickly redirected his energies to chores and farm work. Circumstances thus helped to produce a maturity beyond his physical years” (Llewelyn R. McKay, Home Memories of President David O. McKay , 5–6).
Shortly before his fourteenth birthday he received a patriarchal blessing. In it he was told: “Thou art in thy youth and need instruction, therefore I say unto thee, be taught of thy parents the way of life and salvation, that at an early day you may be prepared for a responsible position, for the eye of the Lord is upon thee. … The Lord has a work for thee to do, in which thou shalt see much of the world, assist in gathering scattered Israel and also labor in the ministry. It shall be thy lot to sit in council with thy brethren and preside among the people and exhort the Saints to faithfulness” (quoted in Jeanette McKay Morrell, Highlights in the Life of President David O. McKay , 26).
President David O. McKay shared the following story from his childhood:
“Since childhood it has been very easy for me to believe in the reality of the visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith. What I am going to say may seem very simple to you, but to me it is a heart petal.
“When a very young child in the home of my youth, I was fearful at night. I traced it back to a vivid dream in which two Indians came into the yard. I ran to the house for protection, and one of them shot an arrow and hit me in the back. Only a dream, but I felt that blow, and I was very much frightened, for in the dream they entered … and sneered and frightened mother.
“I never got over it. Adding to that were the fears of mother, for when father was away with the herd or on some mission, mother would never retire without looking under the bed, so burglars or men who might enter the house and try to take advantage of mother and the young children were real to me.
“Whatever the conditions, I was very much frightened. One night I could not sleep, and I fancied I heard noises around the house. … I became terribly wrought in my feeling, and I decided to pray as my parents had taught me.
“I thought I could pray only by getting out of bed and kneeling, and that was a terrible test. But I did finally bring myself to get out of bed and kneel and pray to God to protect mother and the family. And a voice as clearly to me as mine is to you, said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Nothing will hurt you.’ Where it came from, what it was, I am not saying. You may judge. To me it was a direct answer and there came an assurance that I should never be hurt in bed at night.
“I say it has been easy for me to understand and believe the reality of the visions of the Prophet Joseph. It was easy for me in youth to accept his vision, the appearance of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ to the boy praying. I thought of nothing else. Of course that is real. It was easy for me to believe that Moroni came to him there in the room. Heavenly beings were real from my babyhood on, and as years came those impressions strengthened by reason and strengthened by the inspiration of God directly to my soul” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1951, 182–83).
He later said:
“The older I grow the more grateful I am for my parents, for how they lived the gospel in that old country home. … Both father and mother lived the gospel.
“… My testimony of the reality of the existence of God dates back to that home when I was a child, and it was through their teachings and their examples that I received then the knowledge of the reality of the spiritual world; and I testify that it is a reality. …
“It is … easy for me to realize that one may so live that he may receive impressions and direct messages through the Holy Ghost. The veil is thin between those who hold the Priesthood and those on the other side of the veil. That testimony began … in the home in my youth because of the example of a father who honored the Priesthood—and his wife, who sustained him and lived it in the home” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, 85–86).
When he was twenty-one, David O. McKay entered the University of Utah where he debated, played the piano in a musical group, played on the football team, and met Emma Ray Riggs, whom he later married. He graduated in 1897 as president and valedictorian of his class and was offered a teaching position. He also received a call to serve a mission.
The call of the Lord to serve as a missionary may have came at an inconvenient time, but he left all that was dear to him and went to his ancestral Scotland. His natural leadership was recognized and he was called to serve as a district president.
While serving in Stirling, Scotland, David O. McKay had an experience that affected the remainder of his life. He and his companion had been in the town for a few weeks, but had had little success. They spent part of a day walking around Stirling Castle and Elder McKay was feeling homesick. He later recalled:
“As we returned to the town, I saw an unfinished building standing back from the sidewalk several yards. Over the front door was a stone arch, something unusual in a residence, and what was still more unusual, I could see from the sidewalk that there was an inscription chiseled in that arch.
“I said to my companion: ‘That’s unusual! I am going to see what the inscription is.’ When I approached near enough, this message came to me, not only in stone, but as if it came from One in whose service we were engaged: ‘Whate’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.’
“I turned and walked thoughtfully away, and when I reached my companion I repeated the message to him.
“That was a message to me that morning to act my part well as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is merely another way of saying … ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ (Matt. 7:21.)” (Cherished Experiences from the Writings of David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss , 174–75). He resolved that he would act well the part of a committed missionary.
In 1955, as President of the Church, he revisited the same spot and shared the story with those who were there. The stone was later acquired by the Church and is now in the David O. McKay exhibit in the Museum of History and Art next to Temple Square.
In a 29 May 1899 meeting presided over by James L. McMurrin of the European Mission Presidency, Elder David O. McKay and the other missionaries experienced a strong outpouring of the Spirit. On that occasion President McMurrin prophesied concerning several elders, and to the young Elder McKay he said, “Let me say to you, Brother David, Satan has desired you that he may sift you as wheat, but God is mindful of you, and if you will keep the faith, you will yet sit in the leading councils of the Church” (quoted in Morrell, Highlights in the Life, 37–38).
On returning home from his mission in Scotland in August 1899, David O. McKay began teaching at the Weber Stake Academy. On 2 January 1901 he married Emma Ray in the Salt Lake Temple. It was a union that would be an example to the entire Church for over sixty-nine years. Their love and concern for each other was well recognized by Church members. The McKays became the parents of seven children.
Before their marriage, David often wrote letters to Emma Ray. The following letter, dated 18 December 1900, is an example. He wrote:
“My Dearest Sweetheart,
I will be happy, I will be true,
When I am married, Sweetheart, to you.
“These words have been in my mind ever since they were repeated to me to-day. It is true they just form the rhyme of a simple love song, yet they express the sentiments of my heart to-night, and in so doing contain a deeper import than the author ever intended. If I am true to you before we are married, it will be much easier after. …
“It seems a week since I saw you, and it seems about two days since I was last in school. If this feeling continues, it will be eight weeks before I see you again! Every day is a week when I am away from you, every day is but an hour when I am with you! What but Love can make Time drag so in the first instance, and make it pass unconsciously in the other?
“Yes, it’s love—true love, and I feel thankful that I know what pure love is, and that the person whom I love is the truest, sweetest girl that lives.
“Sweetheart, is such a love any comfort to you? If it is, try to reciprocate it and give perfect happiness to your loving Dade” (quoted in David Lawrence McKay, My Father, David O. McKay , 8).
In 1906, while David O. McKay was serving in the superintendency of the Weber Stake Sunday School, President Joseph F. Smith called him to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. David was then thirty-two years old. His ministry in the Quorum of the Twelve would cover more than half a century. His talents as an educator were called upon immediately. He served as a counselor in the general Church Sunday School and became Church Commissioner of Education in 1919. To him, teaching was the highest of the professions.
In his first address as an Apostle, Elder David O. McKay taught: “The man who knows what his duty is and fails to perform it, is not true to himself; he is not true to his brethren; he is not living in the light which God and conscience provides. That is where we stand, and it comes right home to you; it means me. When my conscience tells me that it is right to go along in a specified line, I am not true to myself if I do not follow that. Oh! I know we are swayed by our weaknesses, and by influences from without; but it is our duty to walk in the straight and narrow path in the performance of every duty. And mark this: Every time we have opportunity and fail to live up to that truth which is within us, every time we fail to express a good thought, every time we fail to perform a good act, we weaken ourselves, and make it more difficult to express that thought or perform that act in the future. Every time we perform a good act, every time we express a noble feeling we make it the more easy to perform that act or express that feeling another time” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1906, 113).
In 1916, Elder David O. McKay suffered a severe automobile accident. His face was so badly lacerated that many felt he would be disfigured for life. President Heber J. Grant, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, blessed him that he would be completely healed, and he was.
In December 1920, Elder David O. McKay left on an unprecedented world tour. Before he left, he received a blessing significant to this tour with Hugh J. Cannon, editor of The Improvement Era. “Presidents Heber J. Grant, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, and several of the Apostles laid their hands upon President McKay’s head and blessed him and set him apart as ‘a missionary to travel around the world’ and promised him that he should be ‘warned of dangers seen and unseen, and be given wisdom and inspiration from God to avoid all the snares and the pitfalls that may be laid for his feet’; that he should also ‘go forth in peace, in pleasure and happiness and to return in safety to his loved ones and to the body of the Church,’ he has experienced the protecting care of our Heavenly Father in all his global ministry” (Clare Middlemiss, comp., in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 37).
Elder McKay visited the Orient and, with apostolic authority, dedicated China for the preaching of the gospel. While in the Pacific Islands, Tahitian Saints were able to understand his words in their own language. Being forewarned of danger in Hawaii, he moved off a platform he was standing on, which collapsed and fell. While in the ancient Holy Land of Israel, he prophesied that although the land would run red with blood, the Jews would yet be gathered. This tour gave the young Apostle a world vision, and the universality of the gospel message became even more apparent.
While on his world tour, Elder David O. McKay had a marvelous dream. He wrote:
“I … fell asleep, and beheld in vision something infinitely sublime. In the distance I beheld a beautiful white city. Though far away, yet I seemed to realize that trees with luscious fruit, shrubbery with gorgeously-tinted leaves, and flowers in perfect bloom abounded everywhere. The clear sky above seemed to reflect these beautiful shades of color. I then saw a great concourse of people approaching the city. Each one wore a white flowing robe, and a white headdress. Instantly my attention seemed centered upon their Leader, and though I could see only the profile of his features and his body, I recognized him at once as my Savior! The tint and radiance of his countenance were glorious to behold! There was a peace about him which seemed sublime—it was divine!
“The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness.
“But who were they?
“As if the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words:
“‘These Are They Who Have Overcome The World—Who Have Truly Been Born Again!’
“When I awoke, it was breaking day” (Cherished Experiences, 102).
President David O. McKay later shared the following experience he had with a gift of the Spirit during his world tour:
“One of the most important events on my world tour of the missions of the Church was the gift of interpretation of the English tongue to the Saints of New Zealand, at a session of their conference, held on the 23rd day of April, 1921, at Puke Tapu Branch, Waikato District, Huntly, New Zealand.
“The service was held in a large tent, beneath the shade of which hundreds of earnest men and women gathered in anxious anticipation of seeing and hearing an Apostle of the Church, the first one to visit that land.
“When I looked over that vast assemblage and contemplated the great expectations that filled the hearts of all who had met together, I realized how inadequately I might satisfy the ardent desires of their souls, and I yearned, most earnestly, for the gift of tongues that I might be able to speak to them in their native language.
“Until that moment I had not given much serious thought to the gift of tongues, but on that occasion, I wished with all my heart, that I might be worthy of that divine power.
“In other missions I had spoken through an interpreter but, able as all interpreters are, I nevertheless felt hampered, in fact, somewhat inhibited, in presenting my message.
“Now, I faced an audience that had assembled with unusual expectations, and I then realized, as never before, the great responsibility of my office. From the depth of my soul, I prayed for divine assistance.
“When I arose to give my address, I said to Brother Stuart Meha, our interpreter, that I would speak without his translating, sentence by sentence, what I said, and then to the audience I continued:
“‘I wish, oh, how I wish I had the power to speak to you in your own tongue, that I might tell you what is in my heart; but since I have not the gift, I pray, and I ask you to pray, that you might have the spirit of interpretation, of discernment, that you may understand at least the spirit while I am speaking, and then you will get the words and the thought when Brother Meha interprets.’
“My sermon lasted forty minutes, and I have never addressed a more attentive, a more respectful audience. My listeners were in perfect rapport—this I knew when I saw tears in their eyes. Some of them at least, perhaps most of them, who did not understand English, had the gift of interpretation” (Cherished Experiences, 73–74).
President Heber J. Grant called Elder David O. McKay to be a counselor in the First Presidency in 1934. President McKay later served as a counselor to President George Albert Smith.
President McKay was sustained as the ninth President of the Church during general conference on 9 April 1951. On that day, he said:
“It is just one week ago today that the realization came to me that this responsibility of leadership would probably fall upon my shoulders. …
“When that reality came, as I tell you, I was deeply moved. And I am today, and pray that I may, even though inadequately, be able to tell you how weighty this responsibility seems.
“The Lord has said that the three presiding high priests chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to this office of presidency, are to be ‘upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the Church’ [D&C 107:22]. No one can preside over this Church without first being in tune with the head of the Church, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our head. This is his Church. Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration, we cannot succeed. With his guidance, with his inspiration, we cannot fail.
“Next to that as a sustaining potent power, comes the confidence, faith, prayers, and united support of the Church.
“I pledge to you that I shall do my best so to live as to merit the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and pray here in your presence that my counselors and I may indeed be ‘partakers of the divine spirit’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 157).
Soon after being called as the prophet, he set out on a tour of missions around the world. He eventually traveled over a million miles, traversing the earth like a modern Paul. Missionary work accelerated as every member was encouraged to be a missionary. Thousands of chapels were built during his presidency. Because he was President of the Church for nineteen years, a majority of Church members had known no other prophet than David O. McKay.
President McKay knew the Lord wanted His Saints to grow spiritually. He often spoke of developing our divine nature. He also often spoke of the family and the home. He indelibly impressed upon the minds of the Saints the statement “No other success can compensate for failure in the home” (quoting James Edward McCulloch, in Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 116). He often proclaimed that next in importance to life itself was the priceless boon of agency and that the Constitution of the United States must be defended.
On President David O. McKay’s seventy-eighth birthday, his first birthday as President of the Church, his colleagues of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with whom he had served for forty-five years, sent him a letter expressing their best wishes. In it they told him:
“Throughout your eventful life you have been an inspiration to young and old in the Church. Your humble yet brilliant career in the Lord’s work has been a literal fulfillment of the Savior’s injunction in the Sermon on the Mount which guided a poet to say:
Hold thy lighted lamp on high,
Be a star in someone’s sky
“Your great devotion to the truth has instilled faith and confidence in the hearts of all who have followed you. Your tenderness and sympathy in times of trial have lifted dark clouds from those bowed down. Your courage to carry on the work in spite of all hindrances has been like a helping hand to many who otherwise might not have endured to the end.
“On this your natal day we pledge to you our love and devotion, our willingness to follow your inspired leadership, our gratitude for the privilege of serving the Lord in fellowship with you” (quoted in McKay, Home Memories, 251).
More temples were built during President David O. McKay’s administration than during any previous administration. The number of temples built, however, is perhaps not as significant as their locations; temples began to be built throughout the world.
Llewelyn R. McKay, one of President McKay’s sons, recorded the following incident, which occurred when his father was president of the European Mission in the 1920s: “Father had the vision of a temple being erected for the European members of the Church. I recall asking him if missionaries should persist in encouraging members to leave their homes and move to Zion. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘it is important that the branches be built up, and members should remain and work toward that end. Someday we shall have temples built for them which will be accessible to all, so that the desired temple work can be done without uprooting families from their homelands’” (Home Memories, 33).
On another occasion, President McKay shared his vision of how a temple should be built. “The first temple built in Europe, the Swiss Temple represented President McKay’s commitment to care for the spiritual needs of the Saints in the expanding church. …
“Furthermore, President McKay had evidently seen the temple in vision, its clean simple lines reminiscent of the Church’s first temple at Kirtland. He described it so vividly to Edward O. Anderson, a Church architect, that he was able to reproduce it exactly. However, as the design process went on, the original drawing was modified until President McKay, upon seeing the drawings, pointed out, ‘Brother Anderson, that is not the temple that you and I saw together.’ The finished drawings, needless to say, reflected President McKays original description” (“The Swiss Temple,” Ensign, June 1978, 80).
The following statements of President David O. McKay illustrate his commitment to spreading the gospel message throughout the world:
“And so with you I say, ‘We are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’ I am looking upon a segment of the Church of Christ who share the responsibility of preaching this gospel to all the world, for we are part of a world-wide organization. This gospel is not confined to Utah, nor Idaho, nor Wyoming, nor California, nor the United States, nor just to Europe, but it is the power of God to salvation to all who believe, and you and I must share part of the responsibility of declaring it to all the world” (Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay ,120–21).
“The mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be considered in two great aspects: (1) the proclamation to the world of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the declaration to all mankind that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared in this dispensation to the Prophet Joseph Smith; (2) the other great purpose of the Church is to translate truth into a better social order or, in other words, to make our religion effective in the individual lives of men and in improving social conditions” (Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss ,162).
President David O. McKay, then a counselor in the First Presidency, was the chairman of the Utah Centennial Commission in 1947. It was appropriate that he play a leading part in honoring the pioneers of the past; his own life stretched back to Utah’s beginnings. He once said: “The best way to honor the pioneers is to emulate and make practical in our lives the ideals and virtues that strengthened and animated their lives. These eternal ideals and principles which they fostered and upheld, even under the most adverse conditions, are as applicable today as they were when emphasized by the pioneer leaders” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 118).
As President David O. McKay traveled throughout the world, his influence was felt in many places besides the immediate Church. One United States Secretary of State called him the best goodwill ambassador the United States had. Monarchs honored him. Presidents called upon him. Nations gave him their highest awards.
President McKay looked like a prophet even to those who were not Latter-day Saints. He was well known as the “Mormon Prophet” and “December 1968, the name of President McKay was numbered among the top five church leaders listed in the public opinion poll released by Dr. George Gallup’s Institute of Public Opinion” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History, 23rd ed. , 556). Whether attending a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II of England or mingling with so-called commoners, President McKay stood out physically and spiritually.
Arch L. Madsen, who was president of Bonneville International Corporation, shared this experience:
“I remember being in New York when President McKay returned from Europe. Arrangements had been made for pictures to be taken, but the regular photographer was unable to go, so in desperation the United Press picked their crime photographer—a man accustomed to the toughest type of work in New York. He went to the airport, stayed there two hours, and returned later from [the] dark room with a tremendous sheaf of pictures. He was supposed to take only two. His boss immediately chided him, ‘What in the world are you wasting time and all those photographic supplies for?’
“The photographer replied very curtly, saying he would gladly pay for the extra materials, and they could even dock him for the extra time he took. It was obvious that he was very touchy about it. Several hours later the vice-president called him to his office, wanting to learn what happened. The crime photographer said, ‘When I was a little boy, my mother used to read to me out of the Old Testament, and all my life I have wondered what a prophet of God must really look like. Well, today I found one’” (quoted in “Memories of a Prophet,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1970, 72).
Basic priesthood correlation of the Church has always been an important concern of the prophets of God. In 1908, Elder David O. McKay, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was called by President Joseph F. Smith to serve on a correlation committee. Later, as President of the Church, he supported and expanded the role of correlation. In October 1961, Elder Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of the need for Church correlation and explained President McKay’s plan for an all-Church coordinating council. In his address he said:
“The repeated necessity for re-examination of the programs, the activities, and the prescribed courses of study has been apparent over the years to make certain that the original concepts relative to each organization were being adhered to, that each in its field was functioning up to its capacity, that one was not usurping the field of activity designed for the other, and that duplications and overlappings were reduced to a minimum. …
“This is a move, which, as I say, has lain close to President McKay’s mind and now as the President of the Church he is instructing us to move forward, that we consolidate to make more efficient, and more effective the work of the priesthood, the auxiliaries, and the other units in order that we may conserve our time, our energy, and our efforts toward the prime purpose for which the Church itself has been organized” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1961, 78, 81).
During President McKay’s administration the correlation program made significant advances. President Joseph Fielding Smith later wrote:
“During the early 1960s a broad program of Church correlation began under President McKay’s direction to help bearers of the priesthood better fulfill their obligations and responsibilities. Four operating committees were formed to include programs of home teaching, missionary, genealogical, and welfare work. Worthy leaders of the priesthood were called to fill positions on these important general committees and to assist in preparing materials and outlines for leaders in the stakes and wards. Under the priesthood correlation program, quorums and groups were given specific leadership responsibilities. High priests were assigned genealogical work; seventies the missionary program; elders the welfare work; and all quorums the home teaching program. The former ward teaching program was greatly expanded into the new home teaching program, and those assigned as home teachers were given greater responsibilities as spiritual advisers to a group of families.
“An organized program of family home evenings was also introduced as part of the correlation program. A special manual of family lessons was published for every family in the Church, and outlines were offered on how to conduct successful family home evening instruction. Course offerings in all of the auxiliary organizations were correlated so that a unified program of gospel learning is followed in all teaching organizations of the Church.
“The work of priesthood correlation and the new emphasis on family home evenings and home teaching brought a great surge of spiritual growth into the Church and marked a significant era in the Church in strengthening the homes and helping fathers and mothers take their rightful places as spiritual leaders of their children” (Essentials in Church History, 26th ed., 543).
President David O. McKay spoke with authority on marriage and the family and on the noble role of women. His own marriage stretched over sixty-nine years and was looked on as a model in the Church. The testimony of his son Robert R. McKay expressed the appropriateness of such a man to receive a prophetic call:
“As my father, he has my love and devotion, and I echo the thoughts of my brothers and sisters. As the President of the Church, and as a prophet of our Heavenly Father, he has my obedience as a member of the priesthood, and my sustaining vote.
“I can say this, and act as a personal witness, because in all of my years of close association in the home, on the farm, in business, in the Church, there has never been shown to me one action nor one word, even while training a self-willed horse, which would throw any doubt in my mind that he should be and finally did become the representative and prophet of our Heavenly Father. I leave you that personal witness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 84).
President David O. McKay often taught of the importance of a strong family in the gospel plan:
“One of our most precious possessions is our families. The domestic relations precede, and, in our present existence, are worth more than all other social ties. They give the first throb to the heart and unseal the deep fountains of its love. Home is the chief school of human virtues. Its responsibilities, joys, sorrows, smiles, tears, hopes, and solicitudes form the chief interests of human life. …
“[Quoting James Edward McCulloch:] When one puts business or pleasure above his home, he that moment starts on the downgrade to soul-weakness. When the club becomes more attractive to any man than his home, it is time for him to confess in bitter shame that he has failed to measure up to the supreme opportunity of his life and flunked in the final test of true manhood. No other success can compensate for failure in the home. The poorest shack in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than any other riches. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles.
“Pure hearts in a pure home are always in whispering distance of heaven. [End of quote.]
“In the light of scripture, ancient and modern we are justified in concluding that Christ’s ideal pertaining to marriage is the unbroken home” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 5).
President McKay gave the following advice for a happy home:
“ Ever keep in mind you begin to lay the foundation of a happy home in your pre-marital lives. While in courtship you should learn to be loyal and true to your future husband or wife. Keep yourselves clean and pure. Cherish the highest ideals of chastity and purity. Do not be deceived.
“ Choose your mate by judgment and inspiration, as well as by physical attraction. Intellect and breeding are vital and important in the human family.
“ Approach marriage with the lofty view it merits. Marriage is ordained of God. It is not something to be entered into lightly or to be dissolved at the first difficulty that arises.
“ Remember that the noblest purpose of marriage is procreation. Home is children’s natural nursery. Happiness in the home is enhanced by having children at the fireside.
“ Let the spirit of reverence pervade the home. Have your home such that if the Savior called unexpectedly he could be invited to stay and not feel out of his element. Pray in the home.
“ Let husband or wife never speak in loud tones to each other.
“ Learn the value of self-control. We are never sorry for the word unspoken. Lack of self-control is the greatest source of unhappiness in the home. Children should be taught self-control, self-respect, and respect for others.
“ Fasten home ties by continued companionship. Companionship fosters love. Do everything to cement love for all eternity.
“ Make accessible to children proper literature and music.
“ By example and precept, encourage participation in Church activity.
This is fundamental in developing a true character. Church activity should be led, not directed by parents” (quoted in McKay, Home Memories, 213).
In May 1952, President David O. McKay left on a two-month tour of Europe. “President McKay told an inquiring audience that the main purpose of his trip was to investigate the possibility of setting up chapels throughout Europe—to encourage Church members to remain at home and not to emigrate to America” (Morrell, Highlights in the Life, 121). During that trip he selected sites for temples in England and Switzerland, the first in Europe.
President David O. McKay was formally educated and had a love for the great authors and writers of the English language. When he taught the gospel he often quoted Shakespeare, Carlisle, or Robert Burns. His talent as a teacher was evident and he communicated not only to the Church but to much of the world.
In a 1954 letter to Elder Mark E. Petersen, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a man told of a sacred experience a friend had with President David O. McKay in one of the temples. He wrote:
“My wife is a counselor in the Relief Society of our ward, and Sister Nina Penrod is the other counselor. As President McKay shook Sister Penrod’s hand, she asked him if he remembered her mother, a Sister Graham from Ogden Valley. He answered: ‘Why, of course I do,’ and placed his left hand on top of her hand as he clasped it in his right. At the moment of the handshake I saw Sister Penrod’s face flush. She said she became overwhelmed and humble, more because as both of President McKay’s hands were on her right hand, she felt a shock, and she wondered if others might have heard the sound that accompanied the shock which had seemed very loud to her. She said a weakness came over her. And this is odd, as President McKay held her right hand with his left hand, he shook hands with many others with his right hand. Sister Penrod said it was very humbling in the extreme to her, yet she felt elated because something wonderful had happened to her, for her arthritis pains were all gone. …
“When President McKay left, as it was told to me, Sister Penrod tried to leave with the others but had to be assisted as she was too weak to go alone. They proceeded slowly, and in descending the stairs she cried out, sinking down. She was helped to a bed in the dressing room where after a short time her strength returned, and she stood up, turned her back to those with her, and reached each arm up her back touching her shoulder blades, saying, ‘I haven’t been able to do this for years’” (quoted in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 156–57).
Brother Melvin T. Mickelson told of how he regained his eyesight after receiving a blessing from President David O. McKay. Brother Mickelson had contracted a serious eye infection and had lost the sight in one eye and most of the sight in the other. The condition of his eyes continued to get worse until the doctor told him the right eye would need to be removed. Brother Mickelson explained:
“About two hours after we had left the doctor’s office, President McKay came to our door and told us he had heard of my sickness and wondered if I would like a blessing. No one could deny the feeling of peace which came with him. As he blessed me, the pain eased and then left me. As President McKay left the room, my wife’s words of faith were, ‘You will be all right.’ …
“The next morning I returned to the doctor’s office. After examining my eyes, he said, ‘Some miracle has happened. We won’t have to remove that eye. Why, you will receive fifteen to twenty percent of your eyesight.’ The next day he told me seventy-five percent of my vision would come back, and on the third day, perhaps all of my vision. …
“Two or three years later, an eye specialist looked at my eyes and said, ‘You have a lot of scar-tissue in your eyes, but I have never seen more perfect vision’” (quoted in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 163–64).
Bishop Robert L. Simpson, then a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, told of his first introduction to President McKay in 1958, at the dedication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple:
“I was walking down a hallway in the temple when a friend intercepted me and invited me to step inside a room. I was overwhelmed to notice that the only other people in the room were President and Sister McKay. My friend said, ‘President McKay, this is one of our returned New Zealand missionaries, Brother Simpson.’ The President extended his firm right hand, and placing his left hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and, more than that, into every fiber of my being. After a few seconds, he gave my hand a friendly pump, my shoulder a squeeze, and said, ‘Brother Simpson, I am pleased to know you.’ Not ‘I am pleased to meet you,’ but ‘pleased to know you.’ During the ensuing days and weeks, the memory of this introduction kept recurring. Approximately three months later, while sitting in my office in Los Angeles, my telephone rang and the voice on the other end of the line said, ‘This is David O. McKay speaking.’ He said that based on our interview, he had felt impressed to issue a call to return with my family to New Zealand to preside over the people I loved so much” (Improvement Era, Feb. 1970, 72).
On one occasion in the South Pacific as he left a group of Saints, he gave them a blessing and a remarkable thing happened. As one man reported: “It is the testimony of some who cast their eyes upward momentarily as inspired words flowed in great power from Elder McKay’s lips that a halo of brightness rested upon him like a shaft of white light, and certain it is that the borderland of heaven and earth rested in close proximity to the spot where was given this wonderful manifestation and blessing. Each listener’s soul throbbed with the conviction of the truth” (quoted in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 67).
In a tribute to her husband, Sister McKay said of him:
“The President is blessed with pre-vision. Many a morning he has told me that certain incidents would happen during the day and invariably the impression would become a reality. This pre-vision has been a helpful guide to him through life” (quoted in McKay, Home Memories, 270).
President David O. McKay taught about the importance of living a Christlike life:
“An upright character is the result only of continued effort and right thinking, the effect of long-cherished associations with Godlike thoughts. He approaches nearest the Christ spirit who makes God the center of his thoughts; and he who can say in his heart, ‘Not my will, but thine be done,’ approaches most nearly the Christ ideal” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 10).
“Every man and every person who lives in this world wields an influence, whether for good or for evil. It is not what he says alone, it is not alone what he does. It is what he is. Every man, every person radiates what he or she is. Every person is a recipient of radiation. The Savior was conscious of that. Whenever he came into the presence of an individual, he sensed that radiation—whether it was the woman of Samaria with her past life; whether it was the woman who was to be stoned or the men who were to stone her; whether it was the statesman, Nicodemus, or one of the lepers. He was conscious of the radiation from the individual. And to a degree so are you, and so am I. It is what we are and what we radiate that affects the people around us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1963, 129).
President David O. McKay taught the following about developing spirituality:
“Spirituality is the highest acquisition of the soul, ‘the divine in man—the supreme crowning gift that makes him king of all created things.’ It is the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite. To acquire more and more power, to feel one’s faculties unfolding, and one’s soul in harmony with God and with the Infinite—that is spirituality. It is that alone which really gives one the best in life.
“Spirituality is best manifested in doing, not in dreaming. ‘Rapturous day dreams, flights of heavenly fancy, longings to see the invisible, are not so impressive as the plain doing of duty.’
“Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love, every brave suffering for the right; every surrender of self to something higher than self; every loyalty to an ideal; every unselfish devotion to principle; every helpfulness to humanity; every act of self-control; every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy; every being, doing, and living of good for the very good’s sake—that is spiritual.
“This feeling about a higher life is universal. The search for, and development of, spiritual peace and freedom concerns everyone.
“You lose the soul unless you develop spirituality within. I would advocate these steps in the development of spirituality:
“1. It is man’s duty to become master of nature—not its slave. Self-control, and control of environment, are important.
“2. Spirituality and the abundant life are dependent upon acknowledgment of Deity, and upon honor for the Godhead.
“3. There must be the consciousness that God has delegated to man the authority to act in God’s name.
“4. There must be a realization that God is the Father of all men, and that He values each soul.
“5. Life is a mission, and it is the duty of every man to make the world better for his having been in it” (True to the Faith: From the Sermons and Discourses of David O. McKay, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay , 244–45).
President David O. McKay taught:
“The Zion we build will pattern after the ideals of its inhabitants. To change men and the world we must change their thinking, for the thing which a man really believes is the thing which he has really thought; that which he actually thinks is the thing which he lives. Men do not go beyond their ideals; they often fall short of them, but they never go beyond them. …
“… The Lord designates Zion as ‘… the pure in heart …’ (D. & C. 97:21); and only when we are such, and only when we have such shall Zion ‘… flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her.’ (Ibid., 64:41.)
“The foundation of Zion then will be laid in the hearts of men; broad acres, mines, forests, factories, beautiful buildings, modern conveniences, will be but means and accessories to the building of the human soul and the securing of happiness.
“Let us then as we draw our plans for Zion today choose what we may call the ‘four cornerstones of Zion’s inhabitants.’
“First: A firm belief and acceptance of the truth that this universe is governed by intelligence and wisdom, and, as Plato said, ‘… is not left to the guidance of an irrational and random chance.’
“The second cornerstone is that the ultimate purpose in God’s great plan is the perfecting of the individual.
“It is his desire that men and women become like himself.
“The third cornerstone is a realization that the first and most essential thing in man’s progress is freedom—free agency. Man can choose the highest good, or choose the lowest good and fall short of what he was intended to be.
“The fourth cornerstone is a sense of responsibility toward other individuals and the social group” (Gospel Ideals, 335).
President David O. McKay rejoiced at the faithfulness of the youth of the Church. During the April 1961 general conference, he said:
“If the question were asked this morning, ‘In what respect during the last year has the Church made the most commendable progress?’ I would not answer: ‘In financial matters.’ …
“I would not say: ‘In the increase of the number of new houses of worship.’ …
“… I would not answer: ‘In the increased membership.’ …
“I would answer that the most encouraging progress of the Church during the last year is seen in the increased number of young people participating in Church activity. …
“Heaven guide you, our Youth, wherever you are. As long as you will keep yourselves pure and spotless and prayerfully and earnestly keep close to your Father in heaven, his Spirit will guide you, magnify you in your youth, and make you a power on the earth for good. Your Father in heaven is ever ready to give you help in time of need and give you comfort and strength if you will approach him in purity, simplicity, and faith” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 5, 8).
In later years, though restricted physically by failing health, President David O. McKay continued to grow spiritually. He often spoke of a zest for life. After President McKay’s death on 18 January 1970, President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“I honor and revere the name and the memory of President David O. McKay.
“For 60 years I sat by his side in the presiding councils of the Church. I came to know him intimately and well, and I loved him as a man and honored him as a prophet.
“He was a true servant of the Lord—one who walked uprightly before his Maker; one who loved his fellowmen; one who enjoyed life and rejoiced in the privilege of service that was his; one who served with an eye single to the glory of God.
“He exemplified perfectly the Old Testament standard: ‘… what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ (Mic. 6:8.)
“As stated editorially in the Deseret News: ‘If ever a man of modern history left his world better for having lived in it, that man was David Oman McKay.
“‘Wherever he passed, men lifted their heads with more hope and courage. Wherever his voice was heard, there followed greater kindness among men, greater tolerance, greater love. Wherever his influence was felt, man and God became closer in purpose and in action.’
“President McKay was called to the holy apostleship in April 1906 by my father, President Joseph F. Smith, who acted under the inspiration of the Spirit, and he became one of the greatest and most inspired leaders of this dispensation. …
“I shall miss him greatly. It does not seem possible that he has left us. But we know he has gone to a joyous reunion with his father and mother and that he is now taking up his labors in the paradise of God as he begins to associate anew with his good friends who preceded him into the realms ahead. …
“To my mind two statements made by the prophet Lehi exemplify the life of President McKay. He was like a great river, ‘continually running into the fountain of all righteousness,’ and he was like a mighty valley, ‘firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!’ (1 Ne. 2:9–10.)
“I thank God for the life and ministry of this great man. He was a soul set apart, a great spirit who came here to preside in Israel. He did his work well and has returned clean and perfected to the realms of light and joyous reunion. If ever there was a man to whom these words of scriptural benediction might well be said, it was President McKay:
“‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Matt. 25:34), for ye did all things well that were entrusted unto thy care” (“One Who Loved His Fellowmen,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1970, 87–88).