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Friday January 17th 2020

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Two lives well lived together

By LAURA WATERMAN WITTSTOCK

It is often said of two people who have been together for many years that they give great gifts to one another beyond the gifts of love and caring. That and much more was true of David and Linda Back McKay, married for thirty-five years before her untimely death. Linda was a young and published poet when she went to KFAI in the Phillips Neighborhood, drawn to its volunteer strength and driven by her own desire to learn prose writing in the hot atmosphere of news deadlines rather than in a cool, dry academic classroom. There she met David McKay in about 1983. David taught her how to meet deadlines by selecting and re-writing the latest news items that would be of interest to KFAI listeners. 

COURTESY OF THE McKAY FAMILY David McKay and Linda Back KcKay (April 21, 1947 – September 17, 2019)

In the early 80s the radio station was a primary news source, tuned into by thousands of listeners in the pre-internet and pre-cellphone days. News was available that could not be heard over what was considered mainstream and it was a joy for David and Linda to provide it for KFAI listeners. News was expected to include a progressive perspective and cover issues not heard over commercial radio. There was little indication that something really big was on the horizon that would threaten radio, and what was then known as television and print, picking them up like fragile toys and breaking them in the fall. The internet and media have grown way beyond early expectations, but community radio and print are still standing and David is still volunteering there. 

However, the skills of her prose ability led Linda to a career in copywriting. She teamed up with a design specialist and the two went on to complete many successful projects for clients in the Twin Cities, but never forgetting Phillips and the work she did together with David at KFAI. 

About a year later, David left KFAI and his radio production work at Migizi Communications to become part of a team that would launch a radio production nonprofit business and help the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe in Wisconsin open their new radio outlet. Then he worked with a team of other public radio experts to teach tribal members the skills needed to operate the station. 

Meanwhile David and Linda were raising the five children of their blended family and what would later come to include six grandchildren and one great grandchild. 

David returned to Migizi Communications in 2001 as education director, working with high school students on the skills he had taught adults. He was well liked by the students and he successfully encouraged them to focus on their media projects.

He has been in a board leadership position with VOQAL, a media and technology nonprofit, dedicated to social, racial, and economic equity. 

He and Linda took to the roads on his beloved big Harley Davidson, going to points at several locations, in many states, including the internationally famous Sturgis, South Dakota ten-day Rally. 

In the early part of the 2000’s, Linda and David became friends with a young American couple who owned a five-room hotel in a small fishing and tourist village on the Yucatan Peninsula, Puerto Morelos, named for Jose Maria Morelos, credited with being part of a war of independence. They lived close by but were starting a family and didn’t want to be tied to the property all the time and asked if David and Linda could help them. For lodging, the McKay’s checked guests in, answered questions and performed room cleaning one day a week. It was a fine arrangement that continued for several years.

At her day job, Linda worked in advertising for many years before starting her own creative copywriting business. She was a poet, artist in residence at the Loft Literary Center, and a creative writing teacher and nonfiction author. In addition to many books of poetry, she wrote Shadow Mothers: Stories of Adoption and Reunion, which was adapted into the play Watermelon Hill and had two extended runs at the Minnesota History Theater. A motion poem based on her work Carousel was displayed on the front of St. Paul’s Union Depot. Linda’s nonfiction work includes a soon to be published book on women motorcyclists of the 1930s and 40s.

In 2016 some symptoms sent Linda to a specialist and the diagnosis was brain cancer with a devastating prognosis of four to eight months left to live. Linda lived on for 34 months following her diagnosis. Her steel will, stubbornness, and relentless sense of humor kept her going.

They took their camper to Florida for the winter or they went to Arizona, enjoying the warmer weather and good friends in the South, except that 2018/2019 was a tough year for Linda. She fell a few times and her unsteadiness was a concern. Even then, her humor shown through, and she joked that she had “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.”

A celebration of Linda’s life was held November 9 at Becketwood Cooperative in Minneapolis. 

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