Robert D. Hales was a financial legend at the pinnacle of corporate success in 1975 when he got a phone call that would change his life.
On the other end of the line was LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball, who asked him to give up his professional career and take a full-time job with the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Without hesitation, the future apostle and Mormon loyalist agreed.
Hales told friends it was like “hearing the Lord’s voice,” according to longtime friend Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency.
Eyring was the concluding speaker at Friday’s funeral for Hales, who died at age 85 on Sunday between sessions of the 187th Semiannual LDS General Conference. The one-hour service included three male speakers — apostles M. Russell Ballard and Russell M. Nelson, in addition to Eyring.
The nine leaders of the LDS women’s auxiliaries sat on the platform, facing attendees. The 90-year-old Mormon leader, President Thomas S. Monson, was not there, due to his continuing health challenges. The only missing member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was Jeffrey R. Holland.
Several thousand mourners gathered for the service in the historic Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City to pay their last respects to Hales, who had served as an LDS general authority for more than 40 years — with 23 as an apostle.
“Bob Hales had a spiritual gift,” said Eyring, who had known Hales for 70 years. “He was a perfectly loyal friend.”
In all the places he had lived and worked, Hales had developed and maintained friendships — from his beginnings in Long Island, New York, through his graduate work at Harvard, stints at Gillette (which took him to England, Germany and Spain) and at Paper Mate, Max Factor International, Hughes Broadcasting and, finally, Chesebrough Inc. in Chicago.
He also served as an LDS branch president (over small congregations) in Albany, Ga.; Weston, Mass.; Frankfurt, Germany; and Seville, Spain; and as a Mormon bishop in Frankfurt, Chicago and Weston.
Those he befriended all felt that “Bishop Hales,” Eyring said, was their “most recent and dearest friend.“
Two decades after that call from Kimball — after serving as a Mormon mission president, a member of the Seventy, an area leader and the church’s presiding bishop — Hales was tapped as an apostle in 1994 at age 61.
Ballard said the two met at the University of Utah in the 1950s and their lives had been entwined ever since.
“Bob was on a fast track,” Ballard recalled at the funeral. “He had skills working with people and his leadership was outstanding.”
Hales suffered two heart attacks before joining the quorum, Ballard noted, which left him with a “deep feeling of the goodness of God.”
Health concerns continued to dog Hales throughout his service as an apostle, challenging and testing his endurance a little more each year.
“But it only made him strong in spirit,” Ballard said. “He was a hero to me.”
Nelson, the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said Hales was “tireless in his ministry.”
The 93-year-old Nelson, next in line for the church presidency, said he would miss Hales’ “New York candor and sense of humor.”
The former heart surgeon, who was present for Hales’ most recent surgery, quipped, “I knew his heart — literally.”
“With the courage of a jet pilot, the tenacity of a champion athlete, the humility and devotion of a disciple of the Lord, Elder Hales has completed his life’s mission in a most exemplary way,” Nelson said. “He has passed the tests of mortality and returned home with highest honors.”
It is not clear when a man will be chosen to fill Hales’ seat in the quorum.
Most LDS apostles are announced during twice-yearly General Conferences, held in April and October, though some men have been called at other times.
A complicating factor at this moment could be Monson’s declining health. The LDS leader no longer oversees daily operations of the worldwide faith — leaving that to his two counselors. For the first time in his nearly decadelong tenure as church president, he was unable to attend any of this fall’s conference sessions.