When Elder Robert D. Hales moved from the Presiding Bishopric’s office in the Church Office Building into his new office in the Church Administration Building, the first picture he hung on the wall was a painting of the Sacred Grove. “When I was a deacon, my father took me to the Sacred Grove,” says Elder Hales. “There we prayed together and dedicated our lives. Then he talked to me of sacred things. When we got back home, my father, who worked as an artist in New York City, painted a picture of the Sacred Grove for me. I’ve always hung that picture in my office, and when I look at it, I remember my father and our talk that summer afternoon.”
Experiences such as this were a continual part of family life in the Hales home, located in a heavily wooded area of Long Island, New York. Born on 24 August 1932, Robert was the third and last child of John Rulon and Vera Marie Holbrook Hales. “I was always grateful my older brother and sister, Jerry and Janet, let me tag along with them,” says Elder Hales. “We were a close family. My dad liked to work in the yard, and he wanted us to learn to work, so we all worked in the yard together. Our home was a beautiful place to grow up, and my family has always been a source of strength for me.”
The gospel was the center of family life for the Haleses. Over the years Robert’s father and mother served in various positions in the Queens Ward, located twenty miles from the Hales family’s home. His parents also served a stake mission. In fact, at one time the entire bishopric was made up of people who had been converted as a result of Robert’s parents’ missionary labors. While serving in the bishopric, Robert’s father would lead work parties with the Aaronic Priesthood to clean and beautify the meetinghouse grounds. It was in the Queens Ward that Robert, a college sophomore, met Mary Crandall. “After I met her, I never went out with anyone else,” says Elder Hales. The two were married in the Salt Lake Temple on 10 June 1953 and later became the parents of two children: Stephen, born in 1955, and David, born in 1958.
After graduating from the University of Utah in 1954, Robert—or Bob to his friends—served for three and a half years in the U.S. Air Force as a jet fighter pilot. He then attended Harvard, where he received his master of business administration in 1960. Career opportunities quickly opened for him, and throughout his professional life he served in major executive positions with several national companies. As a result, the Hales family lived in England, Germany, Spain, and several different areas of the United States.
Personable as well as decisive, Elder Hales is a natural leader who has served in the Church throughout his life, including as branch president in Albany, Georgia, in Weston, Massachusetts, and in Frankfurt, Germany; in a branch presidency in Seville, Spain; and as bishop in Weston, Massachusetts, in Chicago, Illinois, and in Frankfurt, Germany. He was serving as a regional representative when he was called to full-time Church service in 1975 as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve. In 1976, he became a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
“One of the great joys of my Church service came during the first three years as a General Authority as I helped plan twenty-seven area conferences,” says Elder Hales. “I loved traveling with members of the First Presidency, the Apostles, General Authorities, and other leaders and getting to know them and their wives. Watching prophets, seers, and revelators bearing witness of the truthfulness of the gospel to the Saints in country after country was marvelous.”
To watch and be a part of the growth of the Church has been the “joy of my life,” says Elder Hales. While a member of the Seventy, Elder Hales served as president of the England London Mission from 1978 to 1979. In April 1985, he was called to serve as the Presiding Bishop of the Church, where his primary responsibility was the temporal affairs of the Church. “The greatest satisfaction was seeing the faithfulness and goodness of the members of the Church in their tithes and offerings,” says Elder Hales. “As we live the principles of welfare, love and compassion will abound in our homes, in our lives, in our worship, and in our service to others.”
Relaxation usually comes in the form of sports and music for Elder Hales. As a boy, he loved to play baseball. Today, when he has a few minutes to relax, he watches snatches of sports events—all videotaped earlier from the television. He also enjoys playing golf and spending time with his grandchildren.
Elder Hales also enjoys playing the piano—“if no one is listening,” he says. He remembers once when he was asked to play the piano for the opening hymn in a Seventies meeting. All was well until he began playing faster and faster. The faster he played, the faster the Seventies would sing. It was a close race, but Elder Hales says he finished “just barely ahead of the Brethren.”
Though in good health now, Elder Hales has suffered two heart attacks. “I’m happy for every day that I am here,” he says. “I have a renewed appreciation and gratitude for everybody and everything on earth and in heaven.”
One of Elder Hales’s favorite scriptures is D&C 41:11, in which, after the Lord called Edward Partridge as “bishop of the church,” he said that Edward Partridge’s “heart is pure before me, for he is like unto Nathanael of old, in whom there is no guile.” Elder Hales has much in common with Edward Partridge. He, as his wife says, “has absolutely no guile. He has a pure heart. He just wants to do the right thing.”
Following the leaders of the Church has always been among the “right things” Elder Hales has tried to do. “My father-in-law said that when I see a document with the signature of the First Presidency on it, I will never go wrong if I follow its instructions. That’s a bit of advice I have always taken.”
His respect for the leaders of the Church has remained steady throughout the years. Now, as an Apostle, he will stand with them as a special witness for Christ.
“I know that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ and our Savior and Redeemer. If we will have faith in our Savior, He will see us through our trials and tribulations, and we will endure to the end and return to His presence after this mortal probation. As it says in 3 Ne. 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.’”