Elder Robert D. Hales Dies at the Age of 85

Contributed By John Hart, Church News contributor

  • 1 October 2017

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Hales passed away Sunday, October 1, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Article Highlights

  • Funeral is Friday, October 6, 11:00 a.m.

Elder Robert D. Hales died at 12:15 p.m. Sunday, October 1, in the hospital at age 85 from causes incident to age. He was surrounded by his wife and family at the time of his passing.

Funeral services will be held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square on Friday, October 6, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. MDT. The funeral will be open to the public ages 8 and older.

Never satisfied with less than his best, Elder Hales was relentless in his devotion to responsibility, especially to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He relied on gospel principles to guide him as a youth pitching baseball, as a young adult flying military aircraft, as a student in a master’s program at Harvard University, as an international business executive, and as a General Authority for 42 years. He was a personable man who enjoyed being around people and sharing a sense of humor.

Elder Hales was sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve in 1975, to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1976, as Presiding Bishop in 1985, and to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1994.

Elder Robert D. Hales when he was called to the Quorum of the
Twelve in April 1994. Photo courtesy Deseret News archives.

During his tenure as Presiding Bishop, the rate of building meetinghouses and international humanitarian aid increased.

While serving in the Seventy, he served as president of the England London Mission, 1978–81, and after his release served as first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency from 1981 to 1985 and was executive administrator over Europe when the Freiberg Germany Temple was built in what was then the German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany.

Robert Dean and Mary Hales, March 1978, when he served
as a mission president. Photo courtesy Deseret News archives.

In the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he served on the BYU Board of Trustees, was adviser to the general auxiliaries of the Church, served as first contact for Europe, and was the Church’s point man for the Church’s contributions to the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City. These included “Light of the World,” a presentation in the Conference Center for Olympic guests and Church members, addressing the media, and carrying the Olympic flame up the steps of the Church Administration Building to President Gordon B. Hinckley. He also encouraged Utahns of all faiths to serve in some capacity during the Games.


In 2003, he received an honorary doctoral degree in Christian Service from BYU.

Prior to his call as a General Authority, he served as regional representative and stake president and as a bishop three times. He was a business executive for four companies and was a group vice president with Cheseborough Ponds.

Robert Dean Hales was born August 24, 1932, in New York City, New York, to John Rulon and Vera Marie Holbrook Hales. His family had moved from Rexburg, Idaho, to New York, where the father was a successful commercial artist. Young Robert attended school in Great Neck, New York, where he was among but few Latter-day Saints. In his school district was the United Nations building, and many of those he lived around were of international origin.

Robert Hales as a toddler with his father, J. Rulon Hales; mother, Vera Marie Holbrook Hales; brother, Gerald; and sister, Janet.

“As a boy I felt that if I ever once deviated from the principles of the Church, it would be very difficult to explain to my friends,” he once said. “To me it was a responsibility and, had I broken that trust, I think it would have been a problem.”

Growing up, he learned the gospel from his parents by both precept and example. For example, his father once took him to the Susquehanna River to teach him of the restoration of the priesthood. From his mother he absorbed welfare principles while sharpening his teen driving skills; he drove the car so his Relief Society president mom could deliver goods to those in need. As a new deacon, when he rose to share his feelings, tears filled his eyes because the Spirit was so strong, he said later.

Robert Hales as a young man.

Robert's teenage passion was baseball. He was a pitcher both in high school and in college.

Robert D. Hales as a USAF fighter pilot. He flew the F-84 and F-100 in the strategic and tactical air commands.

His teenage passion was baseball. He was a pitcher both in high school and college but was told he could not make a professional player. “The great people who help us in life are the ones who are the most honest,” he would later say.

He turned his interests to academics at the University of Utah, supporting his education as a radio announcer for KSL and KDYL radio stations. During his college years, he met and married Mary Crandall and, after graduating, served in the USAF as a fighter pilot. He flew the F-84 and F-100 in the strategic and tactical air commands. He was an adjutant and part of the precision firepower demonstration team of his squadron. Serving in the U.S. Air Force helped provide the means for graduate school.

After his military service, he attended Harvard University and received a master's of business administration degree. While there, he was called as elders quorum president.

“I was concerned about my grades and afraid I was going to fail if I took time out for such a Church calling,” he said. “But Mary and I pondered the call and said, ‘We can do them both—school and Church service’” (Church News, Apr. 16, 1994).

After graduation, he began a career in business and decided to proceed on a multinational basis, a step foreshadowed by his growing up among families from the United Nations. The Hales family, which grew to include two sons, moved from city to city, from country to country—England, Germany, Spain; cities in the United States including New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; Albany, Georgia; and Big Spring, Texas.

“The wife is left to take care of everything,” recalled Sister Hales. “The first time we moved overseas, he said, ‘You will need to finish selling the house and car, make the flight plans, and take care of all the business that needs to be done before leaving the country.’”

And she did, with some guidance by telephone from the Harvard graduate.

“Whatever decision I made, he accepted,” she said. “It’s a much more rewarding relationship when one isn’t doing the labor while the other provides all the brains” (Church News, Apr. 16, 1994).

They continued the pattern established in graduate school to accept callings regardless of their personal circumstances. And he was successful in his work. Eventually his career brought them, through employment with Gillette, Max Factor, Paper Mate, and Cheseborough Ponds, to Scarsdale, New York. It was while living in this community north of New York City that they received President Spencer W. Kimball’s call for him to become a General Authority. Meetings where he spoke as a General Authority were noted for their spirituality, and he frequently shared the testimony he gained as a youth.

Robert D. Hales announcing plans for Hotel Utah, June 1989. Photo courtesy Deseret News archives.

“My testimony has been a gift that has been given to me,” he said. “There has never been a time when I have doubted.”

In general conference on October 4, 2003, he observed: “Gaining a testimony and becoming converted begins with study and prayer, then living the gospel with patience and persistence and inviting and waiting upon the Spirit.” He spoke of temple dedications when he said, “During these times, among many others, I have felt the undeniable witness of the Spirit of God, like a fire burning in my heart, that the restored gospel is true.”

Elder Hales suffered failing health for several years. In his October 2011 general conference address, in which he spoke of “waiting upon the Lord,” he said: “Every one of us is more beloved to the Lord than we can possibly understand or imagine. Let us therefore be kinder to one another and kinder toward ourselves. Let us remember that as we wait upon the Lord, we are becoming 'saint[s] through [His] atonement, … submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father’ (Matthew 26:38).”

Elder Robert D. Hales speaks at the April 2017 general conference. Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.

Robert D. Hales, president, PaperMate division, Gillette Co.,
January 1970. Photo courtesy of Deseret News archives.

New member of Utah-Idaho Suger Co. board of directors,
June 1975. Photo courtesy Deseret News archives.

Robert D. Hales after being called as a new member of the Quorum of the Twelve in April 1994. Photo courtesy Deseret News archives.

President Thomas S. Monson greets Elder Robert D. Hales during the October 2012 general conference.

President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency greet Elder Robert D. Hales at a mission presidents’ seminar in Provo, Utah, June 14, 2014. Photo by Matthew Reier.

Sister Mary Hales and Elder Robert D. Hales speak during a mission presidents’ seminar June 26, 2015, in Provo, Utah. Photo by Matthew Reier.

Elder Robert D. Hales and his wife, Sister Mary Hales, after he was honored with one of the 2017 Pioneers of Progress Awards on July 13, 2017. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.