Salt Lake City - Top-ranking Mormon leader Robert D Hales, who left a successful career as a businessman to help guide the church, has died from causes related to his age. He was 85.
Hales died peacefully 12:15 on Sunday in a Salt Lake City hospital surrounded by his wife and family, church spokesperson Eric Hawkins said.
The New York City native was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and business executive before he was chosen in 1994 as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a high-level governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Hales missed this weekend's church conference after he was hospitalised several days ago for treatment of pulmonary disease and other conditions. At the conference's final session on Sunday, leader Henry B Eyring announced his death to 20 000 people in attendance and millions watching live broadcasts around the world.
"We will miss him. His wisdom and goodness have blessed our lives for many years," said Eyring, one of two top counsellors to the church president. "We express our love to his sweet wife and caregiver, Mary, and extend our heartfelt condolences to the family."
A replacement will be chosen for Hales at a later date. Funeral plans are pending.
Hales' combination of experience in private business, time spent in the military and deep roots in the religion made him emblematic of Mormon leaders of his era, said Matthew Bowman, associate professor of history at Henderson State University,
He also embodied the Mormon message of the late 20th century: "the steady, slow cultivation of character through self-mastery and work", Bowman said. He often emphasised discipline and goal-setting in his conference speeches.
Hales was born in 1932 and grew up in Long Island in a Mormon family with a father who was an artist.
Hales would recall a special moment he shared with his father when the two visited a wooded area in upstate New York where church founder Joseph Smith said he saw God and Jesus in what Latter-day Saints call the "first vision".
Throughout his life, Hales kept a special painting of the sacred grove in his various offices that his father made for him after that trip.
He had a fairly quiet presence during his 23 years on the quorum, often overshadowed by more charismatic brethren such as Jeffrey R Holland, who was named to the governing body the same year.
Hales was known for being an ambitious man with infectious smile and big heart, said Richard Bushman, a Mormon historian and emeritus professor at Columbia University.
In a speech at a church conference in 1999, Hales spoke about one of the most important tenets of the religion: strong families. Hales was married and had two sons.
"We must never, out of anger, lock the door of our home or our heart to our children," he said. "Like the prodigal son, our children need to know that when they come to themselves they can turn to us for love and counsel."
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