President David O. McKay: "No Other Success Can Compensate for Failure in the Home"

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 199

Act well thy part
While David O. McKay was a missionary in Scotland in 1898, he was once feeling homesick. He said that while walking around a 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 from the sidewalk that there was an inscription chiseled in that arch.“I said to my companion: ‘That’s unusual! I am going to 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”(Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay,comp. Clare Middlemiss [1955], 174–75).

His Life (1873–1970)


Born on September 8 in Huntsville, Utah, to David and Jennette Evans McKay


Age 8, baptized on his birthday; his father was serving a mission in Great Britain


Age 24–26, served a mission in Scotland


Age 27, married Emma Ray Riggs, his college sweetheart, on January 2; she died in 1970


Age 32, ordained an Apostle by President Joseph F. Smith


Age 45–61, president of the Sunday School


Age 47–48, worldwide tour of Church missions; January 9, 1921, dedicated China for the preaching of the gospel


Age 49–51, president of the European mission


Age 61–77, counselor to Presidents Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith


Age 77, became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Age 77, sustained as President of the Church after the death of President George Albert Smith


Age 96, died January 18 in Salt Lake City

His Presidency (1951–70)



Dedicated temples in Switzerland and Los Angeles, California


Opened Church colleges in New Zealand and Hawaii; dedicated temples in New Zealand and London, England; the first stake outside of North America was organized (in New Zealand)


Church correlation inaugurated


Dedicated the temple in Oakland, California


The first stake in South America was organized (in Brazil)

The Life of President David O. McKay

1. “David O. McKay was a Counselor to President George Albert Smith in the First Presidency. In the spring of 1951, when it appeared that President Smith’s health had become somewhat better, President McKay and his wife, Emma Rae, decided to leave Salt Lake City for their postponed California vacation. They stopped in St. George, Utah, to spend the night. When President McKay awoke early the next morning, he had the distinct impression that he should return to Church headquarters. Within days after he arrived in Salt Lake City, President Smith suffered a stroke that led to his death on 4 April 1951. David O. McKay then became the Church’s ninth President.

2. “President McKay had been well prepared to lead the Church. As a child of eight years, he assumed the responsibilities of man of the house when his father was called on a mission to the British Isles. Two of his older sisters had just recently died, his mother was expecting another baby, and his father felt that the responsibilities of the farm were too great to be left to David’s mother. Under these circumstances Brother McKay told his wife, ‘Of course it is impossible for me to go.’ Sister McKay looked at him and said, ‘Of course you must accept; you need not worry about me. David O. and I will manage things nicely!’ [in Llewelyn R. McKay,Home Memories of President David O. McKay(1956), 5–6]. The faith and dedication of his parents implanted in young David a desire to serve the Lord throughout his life. He was called to the Council of the Twelve in 1906 at the age of 32, and he served in that Council and in the First Presidency (as Counselor to President Heber J. Grant and President George Albert Smith) for 45 years before becoming President of the Church.

David O. McKay and wife on plane

3. “President McKay began an extensive travel schedule that took him to visit members of a Church that had become worldwide. He visited Saints in Great Britain and Europe, South Africa, Latin America, the South Pacific, and other places. While he was in Europe, he made preliminary arrangements for the construction of temples in London and Switzerland. Before his Presidency ended, he had visited almost the entire world, blessing and inspiring members of the Church.

4. “President McKay gave renewed emphasis to missionary work by urging every member to make a commitment to bring at least one new member into the Church each year. He became well known for his repeated admonition: ‘Every member a missionary.’

5. “In 1952, in an effort to increase the effectiveness of full-time missionaries, the first official proselyting plan was sent to missionaries throughout the world. It was titledA Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel.It included seven missionary discussions that emphasized teaching by the Spirit and taught clearly the nature of the Godhead, the plan of salvation, the Apostasy and Restoration, and the importance of the Book of Mormon. The number of people converted to the Church throughout the world increased dramatically. In 1961 Church leaders convened the first seminar for all mission presidents, who were taught to encourage families to fellowship their friends and neighbors and then have these people taught by missionaries in their homes. A language training program for newly called missionaries was established in 1961, and later a missionary training center was constructed.

6. “During President McKay’s administration, the ds for the growth of the Church in Asia were planted by Church members serving in the armed forces. A young private from American Fork, Utah, serving in South Korea, noticed that United States soldiers who met Korean civilians made the Koreans jump aside off the path while the soldiers passed by. The young Church member, in contrast, moved aside and let the Koreans use the paths. He also made an effort to learn their names and greeted them pleasantly as he passed by. One day he entered the mess hall with five of his friends. The line to get the food was very long, so he waited at a table for a time. Soon a Korean worker appeared with a tray of food. Pointing to the one stripe on his arm, the soldier said, ‘You can’t serve me. I’m only a private.’ The Korean replied, ‘I serve you. You Number One Christian’ [George Durrant, “No. 1 Christian,”Improvement Era,Nov. 1968, 82–84].

7. “By 1967 missionaries and servicemen had been so effective in teaching the gospel in Korea that the Book of Mormon was translated into the Korean language and stakes and wards soon dotted that land.

8. “Missionaries also had great success in Japan. After World War II, Church members in Japan had infrequent contact with Church representatives for several years. But Latter-day Saint servicemen stationed in Japan after the war helped the Church to grow stronger. In 1945, Tatsui Sato was impressed by Latter-day Saint servicemen who declined to drink tea, and he asked them questions that led to his baptism and the baptisms of several of his family members the following year. Elliot Richards baptized Tatsui, and Boyd K. Packer, a serviceman who would later become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, baptized Sister Sato. The Sato home served as the place where many Japanese people first heard the message of the restored gospel. Soon Latter-day Saint missionaries who had fought against the Japanese during World War II were opening Japanese cities to missionary work.

9. “While the Church presence in the Philippines can also be traced to the efforts of American servicemen and others after World War II, the strong growth of the Church began there in 1961. A young Filipino woman who was not a member of the Church heard about the Book of Mormon and met several Latter-day Saints. As a result, she felt impressed to approach government officials with whom she was acquainted to ask that approval be given for Latter-day Saint missionaries to come to the Philippines. The approval was given and just months later, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve rededicated the country for missionary work.

10. “As a result of the Church’s dramatic growth during the 1950s, President McKay announced the priesthood correlation program. A committee, chaired by Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve, was assigned to conduct a thorough, prayerful study of all Church programs to how well they met the Church’s most important objectives. In 1961, with First Presidency approval, Elder Lee announced that policies would be developed to govern the planning, writing, and implementation of all Church curriculum materials. Many of these materials had previously been developed by the Church’s auxiliary organizations. This new direction would avoid unnecessary duplication of programs and lesson materials so that the gospel could be more effectively taught to members of all ages and languages in a worldwide Church.

11. “The Church also made other changes in order to more effectively correlate all programs and activities—including welfare, missionary, and family history work—to better accomplish the Church’s mission. Home teaching, which had been part of the Church since the time of Joseph Smith, was reemphasized in the 1960s as a way to help care for the spiritual and temporal needs of all Church members. Meetinghouse libraries were established to enhance teaching, and a teacher development program was also put in place. In 1971 the Church began publishing three English-language magazines under General Authority supervision: theFriendfor children, theNew Erafor young people, and theEnsignfor adults. At about this same time, the Church unified its foreignlanguage magazines that had previously been published independently by various missions. One magazine is now translated into many languages and sent to Church members throughout the world.

12. “President David O. McKay had long emphasized the importance of home and family life as the source of happiness and the surest defense against the trials and temptations of modern life. He often spoke about the love he felt for his family and the unfailing support he received from his wife, Emma Rae. During President McKay’s administration, the practice of holding weekly family home evenings was strongly reemphasized as a way for parents to draw their children closer to them and teach them the principles of the gospel.

13. “The Relief Society supported the prophet in emphasizing the importance of strengthening homes and families. From its beginnings in Nauvoo, the Relief Society had grown to include hundreds of thousands of women throughout the world, who were blessed personally and in their families by the teaching and associations they received through Relief Society. From 1945 to 1974, the general president of the Relief Society was President Belle S. Spafford, a capable leader who also received national recognition when she served as the president of the United States National Council of Women from 1968 to 1970.

14. “President McKay died in January 1970 at age 96. He had presided over the Church for almost 20 years, during which time the membership of the Church increased almost threefold and great strides were made in taking the message of the gospel to the entire world” (Our Heritage,114–19).

Understanding the Reading

The Life of President David O. McKay

Preliminary(par. 3)Beginning 
Urging(par. 4)Encouraging 
Admonition(par. 4)Reminder, counsel 
Convened(par. 5)Held 
Private(par. 6)Lowest ranking soldier in the United States Army 
One stripe on his arm(par. 6)Uniform decoration for a private in the army 
Implementation(par. 10)Use 

The Teachings and Testimony of David O. McKay

15. “The home is the first and most effective place for children to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self-control; the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home” (Family Home Evening Manual[1968], iii).

16. “The ds of a happy married life are sown [planted] in youth. Happiness does not begin at the [marriage] altar; it begins during the period of youth and courtship” (Pathways to Happiness,comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1957], 49).

Jesus knocks at door

17. “The highest of all ideals are the teachings and particularly the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and that man is most truly great who is most Christlike.

18. “What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 93).

19. “A true Mormon home is one in which if Christ should chance to enter, he would be pleased to linger and to rest” (Gospel Ideals[1953], 169).

20. “When one puts businesses or pleasure, or the earning of additional income, 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.

21. “The poorest shack in which love prevails over a united family is of far 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” (in “A Prophet’s Counsel,”Church News,Sept. 7, 1968, 4).

22. “It is possible to make home a bit of heaven; indeed, I picture heaven to be a continuation of the ideal home” (Gospel Ideals,490).

23. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, quoted the following counsel of President McKay: “A father can do no greater thing for his children than to let them feel that he loves their mother” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 82; orEnsign,June 1971, 72).

President and Sister McKay

24. “No parent can consistently teach faith in Christ who profanes the name of Deity. Profanity is never heard in the well-ordered home. Swearing is a vice that bespeaks a low standard of breeding. Blasphemous exclamations drive out all spirit of reverence” (Gospel Ideals,420).

25. “God help us to be true to our responsibility, to our callings and especially to the responsibility we have of bringing the glad tidings of the Gospel to our friends and neighbours. It will change men’s lives and make women and children better than they have ever been before. That is the mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to make evil-minded men good and to make good men better” (“Every Member a Missionary,”Millennial Star,Oct. 1961, 469).

26. Elder Robert L. Simpson, then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking about avoiding idleness, gave the following quotation from President McKay: “The true measure of a man is how he spends his time when he doesn’t have to do anything” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 146; orEnsign,Jan. 1973, 113).

27. President Marion G. Romney, who was a counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about hesitating to follow the Spirit while a youth in the mission field and losing the opportunity it would have brought: “The only thing that ever made me feel the Lord had forgiven me was when I heard President McKay say, ‘I was inspired one time to do a certain thing when I was in the mission field, and I didn’t do it.’ He said, ‘I have always been sorry since.’ He said, ‘Never fail to respond to the whisperings of the Spirit. Live so you can receive it, and then have the courage to do as it instructs’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 110; orEnsign,May 1975, 74).

28. “My testimony of the risen Lord is just as real as [Jesus’s disciple] Thomas’, who said to the resurrected Christ when he appeared to his disciples: ‘My Lord and my God.’ (John 20:28.) I know that he lives. …

David O. McKay

29. “I know that he will confer with his servants who k him in humility and in righteousness. I know because I have heard his voice, and I have received his guidance in matters pertaining to his kingdom here on earth.

30. “I know that his Father, our Creator, lives. I know that they appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. … This knowledge is as real to me as that which occurs in our daily lives. When we lay our bodies down at night, we know—we have an assurance—that the sun will rise in the morning and shed its glory over all the earth. So near to me is the knowledge of Christ’s existence and divinity of this restored Church” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 9–10).

Understanding the Reading

The Teachings and Testimony of David O. McKay

Compensate(par. 15)Make up for, take the place of 
Linger(par. 19)Stay 
Club(par. 20)Place to socialize 
Profanes(par. 24)Uses improperly, without respect 
Bespeaks(par. 24)Shows, demonstrates 
Breeding(par. 24)Parenting, upbringing 
Blasphemous exclamations(par. 24)Unholy words 
Confer with(par. 29)Speaks to 

Studying the Reading

Do two of the following activities (A–C) as you study “President David O. McKay.”

Activity A iconWrite an Essay

Study paragraphs 1–14. Write a brief essay about what you admire in President McKay’s life and how his example can help you come unto Jesus Christ.

Activity B iconDraw a Map

  1. 1.

    Draw a simple world map, using the maps in your scriptures as a guide.

  2. 2.

    Color the areas of the world where President McKay visited and where the Church showed dramatic growth during his administration.

  3. 3.

    Put a star on the areas of the world where he organized stakes.

  4. 4.

    Put anXon the areas of the world where Church schools began during his presidency.

  5. 5.

    Put aTon the areas where temples were dedicated during his presidency.

Activity C iconDecorate Your Home

Imagine being recently married in the temple and discussing with your spouse how you want to decorate your home.

  1. 1.

    In your notebook, draw a diagram of the floor plan of your home, showing the different rooms.

  2. 2.

    From your reading of “The Teachings and Testimony of David O. McKay,” write the paragraph numbers of each of those statements in the room you think it would be most appropriate to display them. (Some statements are longer than one paragraph. You can put more than one statement in each room.)

  3. 3.

    Below your drawing, explain your choices. For example, President McKay’s teaching in paragraph 19 could be hung by the front door to remind you that your home should be a place that Christ would be pleased to enter.