Friends, former colleagues and the LDS Church's First Presidency praised former Utah Democratic Congressman K. Gunn McKay Saturday as a dedicated public servant who worked hard and served his community well.
Rep. McKay, 75, died late Friday, Oct. 6, 2000, in his Huntsville home of cancer.
"He's a great man, a humble man, (who) never forgot where he was from nor who he was," former Utah Gov. Norm Bangerter said. "I think he's been a credit to public service, to his community, to our state and to the church which he served until near the last days of his life. I have great respect and admiration and was always proud to call him a friend."
Rep. McKay was a lifelong Democrat. Fellow Democrat and former Sen. Frank Moss said of him: "He worked his entire period of time in service of other people and was extremely successful. He did not die a young man, but he had completed all the good things he was doing for all people."
Rep. Jim Hanson, R-Utah, who defeated Rep. McKay in 1980 and has served in Congress since, said, "I think Gunn McKay was an exceptional human being. He was very dedicated to his family, his party and his church. . . . He was a great American and decent person.
"In 19 elections, of all the opponents I have faced there is no question that he was the strongest and toughest," said Hanson. "He was the best opponent they (the Democrats) have ever come up with."
"He excelled as husband, father and public servant," the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement. "He served his church as a stake president, mission president and full-time missionary in three other missions. Most importantly, he was a devoted follower of the Savior. As a close friend and church leader said of him, 'Those who knew him best, loved him most.' "
Rep. McKay was known all his life for his quiet, unassuming but effective way with people. Family members identified him most strongly with the words "determined" and "unassuming." He often referred to those who criticized him politically by suggesting, "Just kill them with kindness."
K. Gunn McKay was born in Huntsville on Feb. 23, 1925, the oldest of eight children born to James Gunn McKay and Elizabeth (Bessie) Peterson McKay. The name "Gunn" came from his father's middle name and his great-grandmother's maiden name.
From early childhood until age 15, he worked with his father before and after school and during the summer months learning the skills of farming. He milked cows, cleaned the barn, fixed fences, harnessed horses, repaired machinery, mowed and hauled hay and peas, weeded potatoes and helped ewes and cows give birth. He was so well-prepared that when his father was stricken with cancer and died, the young Gunn McKay, at age 16, was able to take responsibility for the farm with the help of his three brothers.
In high school he was a guard on the Weber High basketball team and a guard on the football team. After high school, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Following World War II, he received a call to serve an LDS mission to England from his cousin, David O. McKay, then a member of the LDS Church's First Presidency. He served as president of the Hull District, among other responsibilities. When he returned from his mission, he worked at Ogden Egg Co. He graduated from Utah State University, receiving a bachelor's degree in education in 1962.
He married Donna Biesinger May 5, 1950. After their marriage, they moved to Fairfield, where he operated a large farm.
A few years later, he returned to Huntsville, where he continued farming and purchased a delicatessen/grocery store. He also taught history in the Ogden schools. In 1962, he entered politics by being elected to the Utah Legislature, where he served two terms.
In March 1968, he became administrative assistant to Gov. Calvin L. Rampton.
In 1970, he ran for the congressional seat in Utah's 1st District and was elected, serving a decade. Early on, Rep. McKay was appointed by House Speaker Carl Albert as a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, one of the first members of Congress to receive such an appointment during a first term.
Rep. McKay was a strong advocate of resource development for Utah and worked to balance it with preservation of the state's natural wonders. He pushed through funding for the creation of developments in Glen Canyon, Arches and Zion national parks, drafted language making Utah's Lone Peak Wilderness Area a model of its type, and succeeded in modifying language in the Clean Air Act to allow for critical energy development in Utah.
As chairman of the Military Construction Subcommittee, Rep. McKay reopened Utah's Minuteman Missile production line for an additional year, and he was the prime force in securing the F-16 fighter mission for Hill Air Force Base. In early 1978, he brought the construction projects at Hill to a 37-year high. His committee also appropriated $17 million to beef up security at Tooele's nerve gas storage facility.
Less than a month after he left Congress, LDS Church President Spencer Kimball called Rep. McKay to serve as president of the Scotland/Northern Ireland Mission. He and his wife volunteered later to serve a two-year mission in Kenya.Comment on this story
The McKays accepted another call to serve in Malaysia and then Pakistan before illness forced him to return home. He also served as president of the Ogden Stake.
Rep. McKay is survived by his wife, Donna, and nine of their 10 children, Gunn B., Mesa, Ariz.; Mavis Stevenson, Marl, Ruston, Chat, Carla Siggard, Ruth Jenkins, all of Huntsville; Koleen Jackson, Arnold, Md; and Rachael Sedrick, Clearfield.
He is also survived by 40 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. in the Huntsville LDS 1st Ward chapel, 277 S. 7400 East. Friends may call at Myers Mortuary, 845 Washington Blvd., Ogden, from 6-8 p.m. Monday. Burial will be in Huntsville Cemetery.