Gunn McKay praised for long service

His dedication to state, party and church is noted

Published: Sunday, Oct. 8 2000 12:00 a.m. MDT

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.

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