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David O. McKay

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David Oman McKay (September 8, 1873 - January 18, 1970) was the ninth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon), serving from 1951 until his death in 1970. Ordained an Apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1906, he was a General Authority for nearly sixty-four years, longer than anyone else in LDS Church history. McKay also lived to be the oldest president in the history of the Church as of 2004. In 2005, members of the LDS church will study the life and teachings of David O. McKay as part of their priesthood and relief society classes.

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Early life

The third child of David McKay and Jennette Evans McKay, David O. McKay was born on his father's farm in Huntsville, Utah about 10 miles east of Ogden. McKay's father was a Scottish immigrant and was called a two-year mission to Scotland in 1880 after David O. McKay's two older sisters died. Thus, McKay took responsibilities early to help his mother.

McKay graduated from the University of Utah in 1897 as valedictorian and class president. Immediately afterward he was called on a mission to Great Britain. Like his father, he presided over the Scottish district.

Upon his return in fall 1899, McKay taught at the LDS Weber stake academy and became principal in 1902. He married Emma Ray Riggs in the Salt Lake Temple on January 2, 1901. McKay planned a career of directing education until 1906.

In 1905 Elders John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley resigned from the quorum due to disagreement over the manifesto forbidding polygamy. In early 1906, Elder Marriner W. Merrill passed away. With three vacancies in the quorum, David O. McKay, George F. Richards, and Orson F. Whitney were called in the April General Conference of 1906. David O. McKay who was only 32 at the time.

Elder McKay stayed active in education. He continued serving as principal of the academy until 1908, and 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.

Influence on Education

Within LDS Church leadership, McKay maintained his focus on education. As superintendent of LDS Sunday school from 1918 to 1934, he built LDS "seminary" buildings by 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. He guided the remaining LDS school in Utah, Brigham Young University into a full four-year university.

Interestingly, the State of 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'd accept them, but the proposal failed on voter referendum.

Besides church education, McKay stressed missionary work, and travelled Europe extensively. Memorably, he promoted the motto "every member a missionary." McKay even set a goal that every member should convert one new member each year.

Heber J. Grant chose McKay to serve as Second Counselor in the First Presidency in 1934. He served in the presidency under Church Presidents Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith until 1951. In 1950 he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that is, the most senior Apostle. He then succeeded President Smith on the latter's death, and was ordained on April 9, 1951.

In honor of his years of dedicated service as an educator, the Brigham Young University School of Education was named the McKay School of Education.

As President of the Church

At 77 years, McKay would be president of the Church 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 (as of 2004, there are about 12 million members and 2650 stakes).

McKay was outspoken in his opposition to communism, which he saw as philosophically opposed to faith given its atheist underpinnings. Furthermore, communist nations forbid proselytizing of LDS Church.

Under McKay's administration, the Church's stance on blacks holding the priesthood was softened. Beginning in the mid-1950s, members of suspected African decent no longer needed prove their lineage was not African. Instead the church allowed dark-skinned members to hold the priesthood unless it was provable they were African. This policy made proselytizing and priesthood ordination much easier in South America and other racially mixed areas like South Africa. Blacks of verifiable African decent (including most in the US) were not allowed to hold the priesthood until after McKay's death in 1978, under Spencer W. Kimball.

Under the auspices of the First Presidency, the LDS Church spearheaded "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 auxiliaries. Mormon feminists like Sonia Johnson found the emphasis on Priesthood Correlation to be sexist, a means to put the entire church under Patriarchy. Nonetheless, priesthood correlation continues to be a feature of the LDS Church.

David O. McKay kept a steady pace of travel until he entered his 90s. His deteriorating health even required the then-unprecedented measure of appointing an additional councilor to the first presidency because the leaders were too infirm to preside. On January 18, 1970 he died at age 96. As of 2004, this is the longest any president of the LDS church has lived.

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Preceded by:
George Albert Smith
President of the LDS Church
April 9, 1951January 18, 1970
Succeeded by:
Joseph Fielding Smith
Preceded by:
George F. Richards
President of the
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

August 8, 1950April 9, 1951
Succeeded by:
Joseph Fielding Smith

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