Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints died at 12:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, at a hospital in Salt Lake City, with family members and President Russell M. Nelson present. He was 85.
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the church’s First Presidency, opened the final session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference by solemnly announcing Elder Hales’ death. He said funeral arrangements are pending.
Elder Hales was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1932 to J. Rulon and Vera Marie Holbrook Hales, and grew up in Queens, New York.
He loved playing baseball as a young man. During one baseball season he threw so poorly that a newspaper put out a headline reading “Hard Luck Hales Loses Again.” Discouraged, Elder Hales decided to quit the team. His coach told him to stop trying to impress fans with his curveball and fastball and instead warm up and focus on playing right. Instead of quitting, young Elder Hales obeyed, and his game improved.
“That’s why you love a coach who will tell you what you need to hear,” Elder Hales said, recounting the experience. “If you listen to your coach, you can avoid repeating your mistakes and have a better opportunity to achieve your goals. The Lord is like that too. I don’t get tired of the chastening of the Lord or the Lord’s anointed.”
Elder Hales became so good that he later pitched for the University of Utah.
Elder Hales met Mary Crandall while home from school for the summer. They married in 1953 and had two sons. In order to earn money for school he worked for KDYL and KSL as a cameraman and a film editor.
Upon graduating from the University of Utah, he joined the Air Force and worked as a jet fighter pilot for four years. Subsequently, he moved his family to pursue an MBA at Harvard.
Elder Hales’ love of and obedience to the Lord was tested and refined during his Harvard studies. He was asked to be elders quorum president in his ward there and wrestled with the decision because of his study load. His wife encouraged him to put the Lord first and accept the call. He did, and she partitioned off part of their basement to give him a makeshift private office so he could concentrate.
“I put myself in the Lord’s hands when I made that decision,” he said. “That decision was much harder to make then than when, years later, I accepted the call to serve as an Assistant to the Twelve and left my business career behind. Some people may have trouble understanding that, but I believe you really show the Lord who you are and what you are willing to become when you make those hard decisions as a young person.”
Obedience and faithfulness to the Lord marked Elder Hales’ life and his conference talks. “We come to earth to undergo testing,” he said. “Through faithful obedience and enduring to the end, we can one day return with honor back into the presence of our Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ. I never want to let a time go by without expressing my testimony. As it says in 3 Nephi 5:13, ‘I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.'”
Elder Hales enjoyed a successful business career upon graduating from Harvard, serving in executive positions for national corporations, including Gillette Co., Max Factor, Hughes Television Network and Chesebrough-Pond’s. During these years he also served as a bishop in Massachusetts, Chicago and Frankfurt, Germany, and in a branch presidency in Seville, Spain. He also served as a regional representative in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Elder Hales’ willingness to put the Lord first was tested again in 1975 when he received a call to preside over the England London Mission, a call that excited him. President Spencer W. Kimball contacted Elder Hales after the call was issued and asked him to serve “a different mission,” in a different place and for a different amount of time. When Elder Hales agreed, President Kimball issued the call to be a general authority.
Though disappointed at not being able to serve in England, Elder Hales accepted the call and spent his first years of service traveling with the First Presidency for area conferences. Three years later, President Kimball called Elder Hales to be the mission president of the England London mission. Elder Hales, as before, accepted the call and loved the experience.
Elder Hales and his family stayed in Europe upon his release as mission president. There he served as area supervisor and assisted President Thomas S. Monson in efforts to secure permission to build a temple in Freiburg, Germany. His travels in Eastern Europe sometimes landed him in the midst of military and political unrest. “I have great love and respect for the Saints in these countries,” he said of his experience with the church during this era. “I love them for their faithfulness.”
Subsequent assignments, upon his moving back to Utah, included area president in the North America Southwest Area, Presiding Bishop of the church and utilizing his New York background in efforts to build a temple in Manhattan. Described by family members and friends as compassionate, supportive and without guile, Elder Hales empowered those he worked with to solve problems and develop as individuals and as a church.
President Henry B. Eyring described Elder Hales as “a builder of people. He has been helping people quietly over many years. When he finds out that someone has a need, he does something about it.”
Elder Hales was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in April 1994. That same year he received the Patriots Award from BYU for his military service.
By this time Elder Hales was suffering from heart problems. He had several major heart surgeries during his later life and was in poor health for much of his service as a member of the Twelve.
Elder Hales expressed his feelings concerning his illness in general conference talks. “Afflictions come in all shapes and sizes,” he said. “We will still find it challenging to wait upon the Lord, especially when we cannot fully understand his plan and purposes for us.” He described what a trial his health had been to him and how he had tried to receive answers and healing. Though the healing he desired didn’t come, “Dark moments of depression were quickly dispelled by the light of the gospel as the Spirit brought peace and comfort with assurances that all would be well,” he said in an October 2011 talk.
He told church members his trial was a teaching opportunity from the Lord. “We discover that ‘tribulation worketh patience,’ and we learn to ‘continue in patience until (we) are perfected,'” he said. “Understanding is most often given ‘line upon line,’ and ‘precept upon precept.’ In my life I have learned that sometimes I do not receive an answer to a prayer because the Lord knows I am not ready. When he does answer, it is often ‘here a little and there a little’ because that is all I can bear, or all that I am willing to do. Let us not give up on the Lord. His blessings are eternal, not temporary.”
Elder Hales further expressed how the trial of his health deepened his understanding of the Savior in an October 2000 talk. “Jesus chose not to be released from this world until he had endured to the end and completed the mission he had been sent to accomplish for mankind. … We, too, must endure to the end. … The experiences of (illness) have made me stronger in spirit and have given me courage to testify more boldly to the world the deep feelings of my heart. I stand before you today with a resolve to teach the gospel principles like the prophets of old — without the fear of man, speaking clearly with plain talk, and teaching simple gospel truths.”
Returning with honor was another theme of Elder Hales’ ministry. He learned the term in the Air Force. “This motto was a constant reminder to us of our determination to return to our home base with honor after we had expended all of our efforts to successfully complete every aspect of our mission,” he said in an April 1999 General Conference talk. He authored a book bearing the title “Return with Honor,” and encouraged members to be true to the gospel and obedient to the Lord.
In an April 2017 address, Elder Hales emphasized what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. “I testify that everyone can be a disciple of the Savior. Discipleship is not constrained by age, gender, ethnic origin, or calling. Through our individual discipleship, we, as Latter-day Saints, build up a collective strength to bless our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Now is the time to recommit ourselves to being His disciples with all diligence.”