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'Return with honor': Elder Robert D. Hales dies at 85

(Gerry Avant, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Robert D. Hales died Sunday at the age of 85, according to officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He died in a hospital at 12:15 p.m. surrounded by family. Elder Hales, who was known for his motto, “Return with Honor,” had been serving in the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since April 2, 1994.

Elder Hales is survived by his wife, Mary Crandall Hales.


Robert Dean Hales was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1932, to commercial artist J. Rulon Hales, originally of Rexburg, Idaho, and the former Vera Marie Holbrook, a native of Bountiful. Elder Hales — known as “Bob" to friends and family — grew up on Long Island as the youngest of three children, with an older brother and sister. As a child he built rock gardens and fish ponds in the family’s yard with his father and brothers.

Though the Hales family lived in New York, they remained close to family members in the West. Elder Hales said his cousins in Bountiful were like his siblings, and he spent every summer in his youth working on his cousin’s ranch in Skull Valley, Tooele County, baling hay and caring for livestock.

Elder Hales was a starting pitcher for his high school baseball team in New York. He also played briefly on the University of Utah baseball team, but an injury pulled him out of the game. In 2007, he threw the opening pitch on Mormon Night at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He also enjoyed playing golf.

College years

Elder Hales completed his bachelor’s degree in communications and business at the University of Utah in 1954, and in 1960 he earned an MBA from Harvard.

While home in New York for the summer during his sophomore year at the University of Utah, he met Mary Crandall, whose family had relocated to New York from California. They attended the same ward, or local congregation, with their families. He said he never wanted to go out with anyone else after meeting her, according to his biography on They dated after returning to Utah for school, where Sister Mary Hales attended BYU, and they married the next year on June 10, 1953, in the Salt Lake Temple. The couple would go on to have two sons, Stephen and David.

Those who knew them personally described their relationship as a partnership.

“Any couple could pattern their marriage after them. Their relationship is 100 percent equal; one does not dominate the other. Each opinion is valued,” the Hales' daughter-in-law Susan said.

Military service

Following college, Elder Hales served for four years in the United States Air Force as a jet fighter pilot flying F-84 and F-100 aircraft. He was stationed in Florida between 1955 and 1959. Elder Hales often spoke about his training and background in the Air Force.

“While training to be a jet fighter pilot, I prepared to make such vital decisions in a flight simulator,” he said in a talk to male LDS Church members in April 2007. “For example, I practiced deciding when to bail out of an airplane. My friend who had not prepared to make that decision stayed with the plane and died in the crash.”

While serving in the military, he took its motto "Return with Honor" to heart. He would share this in his later messages with LDS Church members.

"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.


His career, like his later church callings, took him all over the world. He worked as the general manager of Gillette Safety Razor Division in Spain after serving as the company’s marketing director in England and deputy general manager in Germany. Elder Hales also worked as the president of Paper Mate and president of Hughes Television Network, vice president of the International Max Factor Company and was the group vice president of Chesebrough-Ponds Inc., until he was called as a church general authority in 1975.

Throughout his adult life, Elder Hales carefully balanced his education and career with church service. While studying at Harvard, he was asked to serve as the president of his ward’s elders quorum (a congregation-wide organization for LDS men). Elder Hales said that because of the intensity of the courses required in his Master of Business Administration program, professors discouraged students from participating in outside activities. So he and his wife prayed for guidance, and she told him, “I’d rather have an active priesthood holder than a man who holds a master’s degree from Harvard. We’ll do them both.”

Church service

Elder Hales continued his service in the church locally in a variety of positions, including as branch president, bishop, high councilor and a stake president’s counselor. In 1975 President Marion G. Romney, a counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency, called Elder Hales to be a mission president. He was assigned to serve over missionaries serving in the England London Mission. Soon afterward, then-church president Spencer W. Kimball called Elder Hales and asked him if he would be willing to serve another type of mission. When Elder Hales agreed, President Kimball called him to be a lifelong general authority. In the LDS Church, general authorities represent the church in an official capacity.

As a general authority, Elder Hales initially served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Later, when the church reconstituted the Quorums of the Seventy, he became a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Almost three years after initially being asked to serve as a mission president, Elder Hales was again called to serve as the president over the England London mission.

He served as an area supervisor in Europe, and served with then-Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In this calling, he helped establish a temple in Freiberg, Germany. His service was during a time when there were political and military tensions in what were then Czechoslovakia and East Germany, as well as in Hungary and Poland. He presided as area president over the North America Southwest Area and served as first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency. In April 1985, he was called to be the LDS Church’s presiding bishop, overseeing the welfare work of the church, and served in that capacity until he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 2, 1994.


Elder Hales kept family and faith a priority. For instance, he displayed in his office a painting by his father depicting the Sacred Grove — a forest in New York where LDS members believe prophet and church founder Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ.

He enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren, particularly one-on-one, and his wife said he had a good, kind sense of humor.

During the 2002 Winter Olympics, Elder Hales, along with other LDS Church leaders, helped carry the Olympic torch through Salt Lake City.

"Elder Hales is a builder of people," then-Elder Henry B. Eyring said in a 1995 article in an LDS Church magazine. "He has been helping people quietly over many years. When he finds out that someone has a need, he does something about it."

Following a serious illness, Elder Hales spoke while seated at general conference in October 2011, and during several subsequent conferences.

“These mortal challenges allow us and our Heavenly Father to see whether we will exercise our agency to follow His Son,” he once said.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Contributing: Becky Bruce and Faith Heaton Jolley


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