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Larry McKay, dairy farmer and church leader, dies at age 85

Lawrence Hazelhurst “Larry” McKay Jr., a retired dairy farmer, devoted church leader and descendant of Balfour Mills founder Ellison Adger Smyth, died on Aug. 23 surrounded by family at home. He was 84.

A native of Henderson County native with deep roots in the community, he was a son of the late Laurence Hazlehurst Sr. and Mary Smyth McKay. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by two brothers, William "Bill" McKay, a Henderson County commissioner from 1990 to 1994, and Adger Smyth McKay as well as one sister, Mary McKay Williams. He was also a great-grandson of Captain Ellison Edgar Smyth, who witnessed the shot fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and later joined the Confederate Army. A pioneer in textile processes and cotton mill design, Smyth retired to Connemara in Flat Rock in the 1920s but became restless and founded Balfour Mills in 1923. Connemara, built by Confederate treasurer Christopher Memminger in 1836 as a summer retreat and originally named "Rock Hill," became home to Carl Sandburg in 1945.

McKay graduated from Hendersonville High School in 1953 and joined the United States Marine Corps. After graduating from Clemson University, Larry took over the family farm and was a successful dairy farmer for many years. His specialty was caring for “sickly” cows, improving their health and increasing their productivity. Upon leaving the dairy business, he introduced Western North Carolina to the prepaid phone card business until cell phones made the product obsolete.

McKay served as the youngest elder of First Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville and later on the steering committee to form Covenant Presbyterian Church. After serving with the Presbyterian Church, he became a deacon with Bethany Bible Church until his recent retirement. He was beloved for his Sunday school teaching and was well qualified to preach when needed. The Wilds Christian Camp and Conference Center in Brevard selected him to serve on the Board of Directors, which was a great joy and honor for him. For many years, Larry also served as president of the Faith Christian School Board of Directors. Later he served as chaplain of the local Gideon Camp. He loved his Lord first and foremost, then his family and church.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Jane Poplin McKay; four children: Daniel L. McKay Sr. and his wife Marcia, Dorcas McKay Hoyt and her husband Jeff, Ruth McKay Garren and Ben McKay. He is also survived by sixteen grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at Covenant Presbyterian Church with the Rev. Russell Baun officiating. The family will receive friends from noon to 1:45 p.m. prior to the service at the church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Larry’s memory be made to Samaritan’s Purse at or to the Gideon Ministry (envelopes are in most church vestibules or visit Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors is in charge of arrangements.