Question & Story 9th Day Christmas Past

Posted by on Dec 20, 2013 in Christmas Past 2013 | 4 comments

PrintQuestion 9th Day Christmas Past:  What are two of many special things that happened in the David O. McKay family during the holiday season?

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“That Young Man Will Amount to Something”  & “The Old Chickering”

Ray [Emma Ray Riggs] was about eighteen when her mother called to her one day to look out of the front room window. Joining her mother, she was impressed by what she saw. Two tall, handsome young men, each holding an arm to help their mother up the walk, were accompanied by their two younger sisters.

“See, Ray, how attentive the boys are to their mother. They will make fine husbands for some fortunate girls someday.” While attending the University of Deseret, these young people were to be tenants of her mother’s home for the next two years and were to be numbered among Ray’s best friends. Little did she realize then that six years hence, the dear friends would be her brother and sisters, and David O. McKay, the dearest one of all, her beloved, lifelong companion.

Ray, too, was attending the University of Deseret. One day as she was walking down a corridor she heard someone speaking. Noticing the door of the room ajar, she stood in the hallway and listened to a talk given by young David O. McKay before the Normal Society.

That young man will amount to something someday, she thought to herself.

In June 1897, David O. McKay, president of his class, was graduated from the Normal School and was chosen to be the valedictorian. During the commencement exercise, Ray, thrilled by his words, wondered whether she would ever see him again. She was overjoyed when, in July of that same year, his sisters, Jeannette and Ann McKay, invited her to Huntsville to attend David O.’s missionary farewell, and she willingly accepted. That evening after the program David O. walked Ray from the chapel to the McKay home, holding her hand all the way. They agreed to correspond while he was away.

Just before he was released from his mission, David O. received an appointment by mail to teach at the Weber Stake Academy in Ogden, which he readily accepted. The courtship that had begun at his missionary farewell blossomed through correspondence and was continued in earnest for a year and a half after he returned from Scotland in August 1899.

One colorful autumn afternoon under a graceful umbrella tree, he proposed to her in Lester Park in Ogden. She was thrilled but answered, “Are you sure you want me?”

“Yes. I am very sure,” smiled her sweetheart.

They became engaged. It was some months later, just after New Year’s Day on January 2, 1901, when David O. called for Ray in his horse-drawn hack to drive her three blocks to the Salt Lake Temple. Here they were married to be companions for eternity.  The words of Ray’s mother about David O. McKay making some girl a fine husband someday proved to be true.

Later on Pres. McKay planned a special Christmas surprise for Emma Ray.  Pres McKay purchased a new upright Chickering piano, and had it secretly delivered the day before Christmas while she was away at a Relief Society meeting.  For many years their piano had been an old Chickering that her grandfather had brought across the plains by wagon.  “I went in to look at it,” said David Lawrence, “but Father hustled right in after me and ushered me out again, explaining that if Mother saw the light on and came in to see what I was doing, the surprise would be spoiled.  I can’t remember now what subterfuge he used to send her into the library on Christmas morning, but I can still remember her cry of delight.”

The McKay family loved music and “sometimes spent hours singing  hymns and popular songs” around the piano.  Years later while he was driving his parents to Huntsville, David Lawrence said, “the topic turned to music and the songs they enjoyed.  They were both in their eighties, but they started singing the songs from their youth – ‘Just Tell Them That You Saw Me,’ ‘A Bicycle Built for Two,’ ballads, and other love songs.  The duet lasted for the entire trip – Father singing melody and Mother the harmony.  How I longed for a tape recorder!”

Taken from:
Relief Society Magazine, June 1967, 409-11.
Jack M. Lyon, Jay A. Parry, and Linda R. Gundry, eds., Best-Loved Stories of the LDS People, vol. 2 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1999], 194.Laura Willes, Christmas with the Prophets, p. 95-96


  1. David O McKay and his future wife Ray met while he was attending school and Ray’s mother pointed out that he would amount to something someday because of his kindness and actions. Years later David O McKay surprised his wife with a new piano for Christmas, which the family enjoyed for many years.

  2. President McKay gave his sweetheart Emma Ray a Chickering piano for Christmas. Right after New Years Day, on January 2, 1901, they were sealed in the SL Temple. The family loved to sing together.

  3. David O. McKay started courting Emma Rae in 1897, and in 1901, just after Christmas, was married to her in the Salt Lake Temple.
    Later on, he purchased a new piano for her and had it delivered to surprise her while she was at Relief Society. I remember the close companionship and love which they shared throughout their lives.

  4. It was a sweet experience for me to read President and Sister McKay’s courtship story. The story of the Christmas piano is also sweet to me because I was raised in a musical family that loved to sing together. Several years after I was married we saved up our money and bought our first piano for my birthday.

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