From a tiny shop on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City, Bob McKay was always ready with a big smile, decade after decade.
In 1949, McKay and wife Frances opened their first jewelry shop. Two years later they moved McKay Diamonds one block south, to 157 S. Main St., where it became a familiar site for more than a half century. That same year, in 1951, his father, David O. McKay, became president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving nearly 20 years.
The family’s notoriety aside, no repair job or sale was too small for the gracious Robert Riggs McKay, known to his friends as Bob, his family as Daddy Bob and to many of his customers as Mr. McKay, a title they likely had picked up from their parents or grandparents.
He died Saturday at home at the age of 92, and although his passing marks the close of a chapter for the beloved civic and church leader, those whose lives he touched through the years say they will always remember him for his quiet kindness and integrity.
"He was an honorable man. He told you what something was, and that’s exactly what it was," said Bart Stringham, president of Utah Woolen Mills Clothiers, a fifth-generation apparel store downtown. "He wasn’t a salesman. He relied on the quality and integrity of his products. If you liked something you’d buy it, and if not, he always understood."
David Fuhriman, senior vice president at Zions Bank, said McKay was a hardworking man who rarely took time off from his business.
"People could feel his warmth, his friendliness and honesty," said Fuhriman. "Everyone who knew him loved him. He was reliable and kind to his customers. He didn’t push."
At first glance, his jewelry store was barely noticeable, with its 7½-foot-wide entrance and 70-foot-long interior. He joked that it was larger than his previous shop — and that this one had a bathroom. Through the years, shoppers came to expect an ever-present doll displayed simply in the tiny front window, changed only to accommodate the seasons.
After years behind the counter, he retired at age 89 in April 2010, and sold his shop.
"It’s time," he told a customer.
McKay was born in Ogden on Sept. 4, 1920, the youngest of seven children and the last surviving child of his father, who served as LDS Church president from 1951 to 1970, and mother, Emma Ray Riggs, who died in November 1970, about 11 months after her husband’s passing.
The younger McKay attended West High, where he was voted senior class president and lettered in basketball and track. After graduating from the University of Utah, he served an LDS Church mission to Argentina, perfecting Spanish-speaking skills that he used for the rest of his life. During World War II, he was stationed with the U.S. Army’s 180th Medical Control Unit in Okinawa and Korea.
He married Frances Ellen Anderson in 1946, with his father, at the time a counselor in the First Presidency, officiating the ceremony in the Salt Lake LDS Temple.
McKay served for 10 years in the presidency of the Temple Square Mission and other church positions.
He also was a member of the Utah Arabian Horse Club and served as president of the Sugar House Rotary.
He is survived by his wife; children Marianne, David (Nancy), Suzanne and Robert (Cynthia) McKay; eight grandchildren; and 15 great grandchildren.
Funeral services are set for noon on Friday at the Garden Heights Ward Chapel, 2220 E. Fisher Lane (2935 South), where friends may call from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. A viewing is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Larkin Sunset Lawn Mortuary, 2350 E. 1300 South. Interment will be at the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
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