David O. McKay presented a dramatic contrast to his predecessors: an athletic, movie-star-handsome, clean-shaven figure who often wore a white double-breasted suit; contrasted to the dark-suited, bearded polygamists (or, in the case of George Albert Smith, son of a polygamist) who preceded him as Church President ever since Joseph Smith. In an age prior to professional image-makers, he instinctively grasped the importance of appearance, and coupled it to the substance of a professional educator to become an icon of Mormonism whose persona did much to change the negative image of the Church in much of the world.
Clare Middlemiss, President McKay’s secretary for 35 years, spent tens of thousands of hours of her own time in compiling an unprecedented record of his activities, well over 100,000 pages, with the intent of writing his biography. While he was alive, however, she didn’t have the time to write it, and following his death her own health deteriorated. Not long before she died, she conveyed all of her papers to her nephew, Wm. Robert Wright, co-author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. In addition to her papers and other archival sources, we drew on some 200 interviews that we conducted with those who had known and worked with David O. McKay. The result is an administrative biography, primarily covering his presidential years, that presents in great detail the important thoughts, events and personalities that transformed Mormonism from a provincial-thinking Great Basin organization into a global church.
The chapter headings convey the breadth of the book: Prophet and Man; Revelation and Prophecy; Free Agency and Tolerance; Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood; Ecumenical Outreach; Radio and Television Broadcasting; Correlation and Church Administration; The Education System; The Building Program; The Missionary Program; Temple Building; Confrontation with Communism; Politics and the Church; An International Church; Final Years; Epilogue. The sheer mass of primary source material that comprised the final database (15,000 pages) ensured that much in-depth discussion would have to take place beyond the printed pages.
I have been invited to be a guest blogger at Times and Seasons, and welcome discussion of topics in or related to the McKay book.