Friend to Friend

“Friend to Friend,” Friend, Feb. 1985, 6

Friend to Friend

Elder Robert D. Hales

“I was born in New York and grew up on Long Island,” Elder Hales said. “In those days Long Island consisted mostly of rural woods, truck farms, and dirt roads. I used to walk in the woods every day. I would also go into New York City with my mother to meet my father, an artist who worked at Rockefeller Center. We would go to Yankee Stadium, Ebbet’s Field (home of the Brooklyn Dodgers), the Polo Grounds (home of the New York Giants), Madison Square Garden, and other places. At Madison Square Garden I saw competitions between the best cowboys in the world, and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. In New York you can see rodeos, ball games, musical performances, ballet, opera, and plays at a theater, or just about anything.

“There were only a few Mormons in my school. We had to make our religious commitments early. My friends were faithful in their religions, whether they were Catholic or Protestant or Jewish. The United Nations was initially founded in our high school district, and virtually every nation of the world was represented there, so I grew up with people of many different nationalities. They were my friends, and I visited their homes and met their families and learned about their traditions. I learned, too, that there are good people and bad people in every culture.

“I came out west every summer by car or train. In those days travel by air wasn’t very common. The families of my mother and father all lived in the Salt Lake area. My aunts and uncles were just like second mothers and fathers to me. My cousins are still like brothers and sisters. I worked on a ranch in Skull Valley, west of Salt Lake City, riding after wild horses, putting down salt licks, and sitting on a baler. I still have scars on one of my hands from working on the baler.”

Speaking about his parents, Elder Hales said, “My dad is a kind, loving man who has many friends. He also has a great sense of humor and can always find a way to laugh, no matter how bad things are. He taught me how to work, how to be a person of integrity, and how to develop love for people. He taught me responsibility too. Just a few weeks before I left for college, I had to cut up some trees that had been uprooted by a hurricane. There was a lot of wood to cut, but it was my responsibility, and Dad expected me to do it, so I did.

“My mother loved her family very much. She’d say “Your name might be Hales, but never forget that you are a Holbrook too.’ One of my first assignments when I got my driver’s license was to drive my mother, who was Relief Society president, on her rounds to deliver welfare goods. My parents were stake missionaries. At one time our whole bishopric had been converted by Mother and her companion and Dad and his companions.

“I’m the youngest in our family. My brother, Jerry, is eight years older than I, and my sister, Janet, is about three years older. We loved to go to the beach, to tramp around in the woods, and to just play in the yard together. We enjoyed each other’s company. As the youngest child, I always got to know the friends of my brother and sister, so I had a wide range of friends.

“Christmastime was always special,” Elder Hales recalled. “The day before Christmas we would go sleigh riding on the hills near our home. On Christmas Eve we would read the story of the birth of Christ from the Bible. Then on Christmas day my aunt, uncle, and cousins would come, and we would have a magnificent dinner together. All our other relatives lived far away.

“I loved all sports, but baseball was my favorite. Our coach used to pitch for the Chicago White Sox, and he taught me how to play baseball. But of more importance, he taught me a lot about attitude and sportsmanship.

“I remember that my teachers in Sunday School and Primary had to come long distances to set up classrooms in a rented hall so that we could meet together. We came to know each other very well, and we felt almost like a family. I had good teachers at school, too, especially a Mrs. Carey, who was also a neighbor. Using a map, she would explain world events to me each day after school.

Elder Hales counsels young people to “enjoy your home while you’re in it—just enjoy being a member of the family and being able to help one another and love one another and know that you are cared for in return. Learning how to live in harmony with your family helps to prepare you for getting along with the rest of the world.”