Byron S. Mackay: Arthritis Can’t Cripple His Spirit

Byron Smith Mackay matter-of-factly recounts his lifelong battle against debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. The disease has left his body badly weakened, but in the spirit Byron seems to be winning.

He was stricken with rheumatic fever when he was only twelve, but its life-threatening effects did not appear until years later.

The years of his youth seemed normal enough. When he was fifteen years old, young Byron began working at the Winder Dairy in the southwest part of Salt Lake Valley, loading cases of milk onto trucks—some twenty-one tons of milk a day, 365 days a year. He married Caryl Nielson, whom he had met in the eighth grade, in the Salt Lake Temple when he was eighteen and she was seventeen. Byron built the house they now live in, and in 1949 their first son, Glen, arrived.

It was the same year the disease struck. His condition became so bad that for a time he was not expected to live; his weight dropped from 175 to 109 pounds. A new job was created for him at the dairy—night watchman—but within two years the swelling in his joints and the pain made it impossible for him to continue working. His eight-year stint at the dairy ended in 1951, a few months after his daughter Peggy was born.

George Winder, Brother Mackay’s boss at the dairy, speaks of him with the affection of a longtime friend. Byron Mackay, he says, has “the most positive attitude of anyone I know. You never hear him complain, although he has much he could complain about. He’s really a great man.”

In January of 1952, six weeks of hospitalization began. Brother Mackay was in excruciating pain. One night Caryl knelt in prayer and pleaded that her husband would be relieved of his suffering or taken from this life. She received a strong witness that he was to live.

The next morning at the hospital she found him free of pain. The evening before, he had received his first dose of a new drug—cortisone.

The respite was brief. Because the drug was still being tested, doctors stopped giving it to him after two weeks. Brother Mackay had been at home, walking again. But soon he needed to return to the hospital. This time, he feared he might die.

Before he went into the hospital, his extended family fasted for him, and he received a blessing under the hands of his cousin. “The Spirit of the Lord was there so strong! As he blessed me, he promised that according to my faithfulness I would be able to perform my responsibilities, and that I would not suffer any more increase of pain from the arthritis. And he promised me that I would be able to raise my family, and provide for them, and work,” Brother Mackay recalls.

Another new drug improved his condition. After training through a rehabilitation program, he was able to work many years as a barber. Eventually, he bought his own shop; paralysis in his hands now makes it nearly impossible for him to work.

Barbering never provided a lot of money, Brother Mackay recalls, but “we had enough for clothes and Christmas.” It also helped support two more children, Dan and Sandra.

There have been numerous hospitalizations through the years: three hip replacements (one wore out), two knee surgeries, surgeries on both hands, back surgery, broken ribs from a fall. Recently his lower eyelid had to be removed because of cancer.

So it was a surprise a few years ago when he was called to be bishop of a new ward. He told the stake presidency, “The Lord will have to help.” Their answer: “He will.”

Pete Thompson, formerly president of the Granger Utah Stake, comments, “Byron was a fantastic bishop. When he called people in for a position, they forgot their excuses and accepted, knowing the bishop wouldn’t be too impressed by any reasons why they couldn’t serve.

“Byron didn’t know what it meant to get discouraged. He kept going—and got others going too.”

The people of his ward knew his love was genuine, and the affection was reciprocated. When the ward had a campout at Yellowstone National Park, they gave him a T-shirt emblazoned “Bionic Bishop.”

But further health problems forced him to ask for a release as bishop late in 1983. Since then he has faced a heart attack, other major surgeries, and six weeks of complete paralysis from which he is recovering. Priesthood blessings have helped. So has his family, particularly a son and daughter-in-law who live nearby.

Brother Mackay promised his stake president that he and his wife would go on a mission as soon as he is able to walk and care for himself. One of the blessings he received told him he still has a special mission to fulfill. Caryl Mackay believes that is why his life has been preserved.

Her husband credits her with most of his success and well-being. He notes that she worked at Winder Dairy for many years; when he was unable to work, she paid tithing on what he would have made if he had.

The Mackays believe that people must prove the Lord, not just for a month or two, but for a long, long time. Byron comments: “I’m a living testimony that if people will accept callings, the Lord will help them fulfill them.”

[photos] Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

Stephanie J. Bird, a free-lance editor and mother of four, serves as second counselor in the Primary presidency of the Granger (Utah) Tenth Ward.

David K. Keala: Family Patriarch—and Homemaker of the Year

David Kaluna Keala was probably as surprised as anyone when he was named Homemaker of the Year on the island of Maui in Hawaii. But he suspects his wife may have had something to do with his selection, through the chapter of the national homemaking organization in which both are involved.

The Kealas’ strong family values were undoubtedly also a factor in their selection as one of nine “Great American Families” for the United States in 1983.

David Keala’s concept of family extends to wherever his posterity live. That is evident in the painting of the family tree that occupies one dining room wall in the two-story, sixteen-room Keala home on the slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakala. In a heart at the trunk are inscribed the names of David Kaluna Keala and Rebecca Foo Sum Keala. On the branches and leaves are clustered the names of their three children and their families, extending now to great-grandchildren.

“I’m happy that I’ve been able to see my great-grandchildren,” Brother Keala says, adding that many people do not have that opportunity. He explains that he feels a responsibility for all of his posterity, not so much temporally as spiritually. “Although they are not under our roof and they have a family of their own, these are still our children.”

He has strong feelings about families—that he has a responsibility to teach grandchildren and great-grandchildren principles he helped his children learn, and that husbands and wives have a responsibility to work together in building a strong, moral home. Family members should support each other in all their activities, he believes. That bit of philosophy may have helped bring about his selection as Homemaker of the Year.

Rebecca Keala was active in the Maui University Extension Club, and rather than let her drive to night meetings alone, Brother Keala took her himself. “Learning with the women of the club (which is associated with the national University Home Extension Program) seemed better than waiting in the car.”

In 1982, when the selection committee called to tell him he had won the award, “I thought they were talking about my wife. She has held every position from president to national delegate in the twenty-eight years of her membership in the club.” Now he is president of the organization’s Maui council, and his goal is to get more men into the organization, to help them realize that making a home is not the job of the wife alone.

He always puts principles learned through the gospel uppermost in his life, his wife and children say. Rebecca Keala recalls that in 1983, when they traveled to Washington, D.C., for presentation of the “Great American Family” awards by the University Cooperative Extension Service, her husband made sure their first activity was visiting the temple.

When the Kealas traveled to Washington, accompanied by other family members, their forty-two pieces of luggage carried pineapples, macadamia nuts, and leis to share with anyone from taxi drivers to the 130 other people at the awards banquet. The Kealas volunteered their singing and dancing for the banquet and also shared a twenty-six page booklet, “The Aloha Spirit Begins at Home,” which told about their family and contained the hymn “Love at Home,” with a Hawaiian translation.

“I have known David for over thirty years, and his character is exemplary in being honest and fair,” says his friend, patriarch Frederick Mau. Brother Keala teaches quietly, and by example.

His son David recalls that once some high school friends had asked him to go to a football game on Sunday. “I asked Dad, and he answered simply, ‘You know what’s right and wrong.’” David declined.

To a grandson who had removed his tie and rolled up his sleeves to be in fashion with other deacons, Brother Keala simply offered a quiet reminder about the sacredness of passing the sacrament. After discussing her concerns with a granddaughter-in-law seeking counsel, Brother Keala advised, “Don’t do what I say. Always pray about what you hear, because the Lord helps us see the right answer.” Calling to visiting family members leaving his home early for a day’s activity, he asked, “Did you have your morning prayer?”

Brother Keala speaks lovingly of his parents, David Kaaa and Juliet Kalama Kaluna Keala, and their fine example. “I often say I wish I could be half the man my father was.” His parents set an example of Church activity he still follows. He is serving as coordinator for the early morning seminaries in his stake.

But that is not his only association with education. He is a volunteer in the Kupuna (Grandparent) Program with the Hawaii Department of Education. Four days a week, he teaches Hawaiian language and culture to children at the Kula Elementary School.

“The word aloha means unconditional love,” he explains. “What better way can I share it than through the gospel of Jesus Christ in my home and my community.”

[photos] Photography by Pierre of Lahaina Studios

Yvonne Kukahiko Wong serves as education counselor in the Honolulu Hawaii West Stake Relief Society presidency.