The Rt. Rev. Robert B. Hall, 64, the Episcopal bishop of Virginia who ordained the first women priests in his diocese and who since 1980 had waged a notable personal battle against alcoholism, died May 27 at St. Mary's Hospital in Richmond.
He entered the hospital May 19 to undergo surgery for lung cancer. He later suffered two strokes and entered a coma. He also had emphysema.
Bishop Hall was ordained in 1949 and consecrated bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 1966. He became Bishop of Virginia in 1974. The diocese includes about 175 congregations north of the James River and has about 88,000 parishioners.
In November 1974, he ruled that a Charlottesville church should not hold services in which the Rev. Alison Cheek of Annandale helped officiate. In a letter to the church rector, he said women were forbidden to act as priests in Virginia and that neither the rector nor the congregation could overturn this policy.
Bishop Hall acted in accordance with rulings handed down by the church's House of Bishops. At its General Convention in September 1976, however, the church reversed its stand.
On Jan. 2, 1977, at the field house of the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, a beaming Bishop Hall presided at the ordination of Patricia Laura Merchant Park. She became the first woman in the Washington area to become an Episcopal priest with the full blessings of the church.
If Bishop Hall was successful in leading his diocese through a time of change, he was equally successful in meeting a grave personal crisis. In early 1980, he announced to the clergy and lay leaders of the diocese that he was seeking treatment for alcohol dependency and would be away from his post for six weeks.
He entered St. Mary's Rehabilitation Hospital in Minneapolis, and on Feb. 9 the Diocesan Standing Committee and its executive board voiced their support for him.
In an interview with The Washington Post in August 1980, the bishop recounted his battle with alcohol. He told how it had begun about a year earlier with excessive drinking at lunch, then continued with drinking at home. He described how helpless he felt to control it.
When he returned to work, he continued to receive counseling and became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He also tried to turn his ordeal into hope for others.
He told The Post, "You know, when Joe Blow gets drunk, that's not news. When a bishop does, it is. People have gone into treatment because of what happened to me. People have come out of the closet in their drinking and asked for help.
"I don't think I've been to a church since I've been back where at least one person hasn't come up and identified himself or herself as an alcoholic," he said. "It has helped to take me out of the sort of stereotyped role, the ceremonial role of a bishop. It makes the bishop more human."
Robert Bruce Hall was born in Wheeling, W.Va., on Jan. 27, 1921. He was a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Mass. He served with the Army during World War II. He was an associate minister and rector at churches in West Virginia and Chicago before becoming bishop coadjutor in 1966.
Bishop Hall, who lived in Richmond, was a trustee of the Virginia Theological Seminary and the Blue Ridge School in Dyke, Va. He was a fellow of the College of Preachers.
Survivors include his wife of 36 years, the former Dorothy Varner Glass, of Richmond, and five children.