Robert D. Hales
When Robert D. Hales began his MBA program, he was counseled not to become involved in outside activities because of the rigor of his courses. During the program, however, he was called to be the elders quorum president in his ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While deliberating whether to accept the calling, his wife Mary came to the conclusion, “I’d rather have an active priesthood holder than a man with an MBA from Harvard. We’ll do both.”1 He accepted the calling, and Mary spent a day clearing out part of their basement to make room for a study to help him juggle the responsibilities of his studies and his calling. The Haleses remembered this decision as a defining moment and have continued to put the Lord and His work first throughout their lives.
Robert Dean Hales was born on August 24, 1932 in New York City and grew up on Long Island. Because of the district he lived in, he went to high school with some of the children of United Nations representatives, which sparked his interest in international travel. He was an athletic teenager, the starting pitcher for his high school baseball team. He was also blessed to be raised in a gospel-centered home. Elder Hales specifically remembered the day in his youth that his father, a commercial artist, took him to visit the Sacred Grove. Together they talked, prayed, and dedicated their lives to the Lord. His father later painted a picture of the Sacred Grove, which later hung in Elder Hales’s office as a reminder of that experience.
Many other experiences from his youth had a significant influence on Robert Hales, who was known simply as Bob to his friends and family. He also had mentors outside of his family who taught him important life lessons. His baseball coach, for example, once told him to “quit showing off” before games so he wouldn’t wear out his arm;2 he immediately saw improvement in his pitch. Another time, his bishop caught him as he jumped off the stage of the Citizen’s League Hall that they used as a meetinghouse. He was putting sacrament trays away with the other deacons, and they had turned it into a rowdy game. The bishop taught him that even if everyone else was doing it, Robert had a responsibility to set an example of reverence. Robert Hales learned to appreciate such chastening moments as precursors to the Lord’s chastening of His anointed.
Robert D. Hales set out for the West to study at the University of Utah. One summer, back home in New York, he met a girl whose family had recently moved to the area. She, too, was home for the summer from studying—at Brigham Young University. The two spent the whole summer together, moved to Utah, and continued to date throughout the school year. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple the following summer of 1953. Others in and outside of their family noticed the remarkable partnership in the Hales’s marriage. Elder Hales said, “We follow the Quaker proverb ‘Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we will ascend together . . . We always have been a team and always will be.”3 They had two sons.
After graduating from the University of Utah in 1954, the Hales family moved to Florida, where Robert D. Hales spent four years as a jet fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. There he picked up the motto “Return with honor,” which he continued to live by and taught his sons to live by. The family moved from Florida to Massachusetts for Elder Hales to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard. He graduated in 1960 and began a highly successful business career. He was an executive for three major national companies, which took his family all over the world. They lived in Albany, Georgia; Seville, Spain; Weston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Frankfurt, Germany; Boston, Massachusetts; and London, England. They also lived in the Minnesota and Louisiana areas.
No matter where he lived, Robert D. Hales did not forget his dedication to the Lord. He built up the Church as a branch president, bishop, high councilor, and member of stake presidencies. His full-time Church service began in 1975, when he was called to be a general authority. He first served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve and then as a member of the Seventy. From there, he presided over the England London Mission and later served as an area supervisor in Europe, an area president for North America, and as the first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency. In 1985 he was called to be the Presiding Bishop of the Church, in which call he served for nine years before he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1994.
Elder Hales said in one BYU devotional, “I testify that the life Heavenly Father has in store for each of us is more glorious than anything we can imagine or arrange for ourselves, but it won’t come without challenges, and it won’t come about all at once.”4 This testimony is an apt characterization of his life and service.
Elder Robert D. Hales passed away on October 1, 2017. His tender testimony and spiritual insight, shared in these BYU devotionals as well as his many other addresses, continue to bless and comfort members of the Church and others worldwide.
1 LaRene Gaunt, “Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve: Return with Honor,” Ensign, April 1995
4“Our Essential Spiritual Agency,” BYU devotional address, 14 September 2010.