Gunn McKay, the Democratic candidate in the 1st District congressional race, says he's gregarious. Friends say that's an understatement.
For example, his campaign manager says when they eat in a restaurant, it may take hours because McKay goes table-to-table greeting friends or introducing himself to people who look as if they may want to meet him. "We're always pushing him. We're always behind schedule," his manager says.McKay's wife says she also never knows when to expect him home. McKay says, "That's because I may decide to go see how so-and-so is doing, or I meet someone and we start talking."
That's also why he says he likes politics - because it gives him a chance to talk to people and help them.
"I don't really like the debates, fund-raising and confrontations that come along with politics. But it does allow you to open doors, get people together and solve problems. That's what I like - helping people," McKay, 63, said.
Because of such priorities, McKay delayed his own college education for 15 years while he earned money to help send
younger brothers to school and on LDS Church missions.
It also led him to buy the old family home in Huntsville to ensure it would be an anchor to hold his brothers and sisters and their children together. They still enter without knocking, and feel free to help themselves to anything in the refrigerator or to nap on any available bed. "My wife has been a good sport about that," he said.
The roots for his love of people and politics are found in McKay's family life. He was the oldest of eight children in a family where the topics of discussion were "always politics and religion, nothing else."
He said his father was a staunch Democrat and once ran for the U.S. Senate. But his mother had Republican leanings, and several of his younger brothers later joined that party. "Even though our family discussions often were heated, we always came away with a good feeling about each other."
McKay said his father would always take the family to mass meetings and to hear speeches by candidates. "The McKays were also organizers. We helped put in the water system, and Father taught that you were always supposed to do your part and get involved."
His father died when McKay was only 16 - during the Great Depression. As his family struggled to make ends meet during those years, McKay's devotion to the Democratic Party deepened because it seemed more concerned about people.
After McKay returned from the service during World War II, he and his brothers tried to work out who could go to college and on missions and when. Gunn went on a mission while his younger brother, Quinn, supported him.
When Gunn came home it was his turn to support Quinn and another, Monroe, on missions. His campaign manager, Russell Clark, said McKay also delayed his own education to send his brothers to college while he worked as a farmer and shipping clerk.
Then, 15 years after he graduated from high school and when he was married with five children, McKay decided finally to obtain a college education. He went two years to Weber State College during the day while he worked at odd hours to support his family.
He then took a year's worth of extension courses from Utah State University. Then he went to USU full-time for a year, sleeping in the basement of a friend's home during the week and returning to his own home in Huntsville during the weekends. He was busy serving in the local LDS bishopric at the time.
He finally graduated and became a history teacher. Although he loved politics, he told friends he thought he would never get a chance to run for office because of his school debts and the pressure of taking care of his large family - which grew to include 10 children.
But friends helped McKay gain an appointment to fill a vacancy in the Legislature. When he ran for re-election, he spent $35 to print handbills and campaigned heavily door-to-door. In contrast, his congressional campaign this year is expected to cost $400,000.
To show how politics abounded in his family life, he remembers milking a cow one morning when his second cousin and next-door neighbor David O. McKay, then president of the LDS Church, walked over and congratulated him on his appointment to the Legislature.
"He said there was just one thing wrong," McKay said. "You're a Democrat." McKay's relation to the LDS Church leader would actually later hurt him in his first run for Congress, when he said his opponent claimed McKay was adopted into the family and several relatives fought against his candidacy.
McKay won anyway, and served five terms before being unseated by Jim Hansen in 1980. He said he is running again now, "because people asked me to, and because they don't want me to quit." And he says concern about those people will always be the focus of his campaigns and his service in office.