JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As news began to spread of the unexpected death of UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr., messages poured in on social media from those who knew Haley and were shocked by the sudden loss.
According to an internal UF Health email obtained by News4Jax, Haley died after an accident Saturday in South Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed Sunday that Haley died after he was ejected from a personal watercraft in the Palm Beach Inlet.
After learning the news, Edward Waters University President and CEO A. Zachary Faison Jr. wrote:
Life is not promised. Lord, have mercy at the news I just received. 😢😢😢😢😢😢😢😢😢😢😢😢— A. Zachary Faison, Jr. (@MillennialPrez1) July 24, 2021
He told News4Jax when he heard the news, he was shocked.
“Back in 2018, Dr. Haley was one of the first persons that reached out to me and welcomed me to the city. As matter of fact, he made an appointment and came over to introduce himself and really was just a great friend and resource for me,” Faison said. “Just devastated to hear this most recent news.”
Faison said he and Haley both served on the JEA board together as well as the Civic Council. He received an uplifting email from Haley just last week.
“It said exactly, ‘I know the last few days have been a whirlwind for you. But I wanted to send you my congratulations on becoming a university and leading Edward Waters to even greater heights. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment, Leon,’” Faison said.
He said Haley was an uplifting, caring person who will be missed by many.
“He had a very calming spirit. I know over the last, of course, about 18 months, as we’ve all been grappling through the throes of the pandemic, to hear his updates and his insights on how we’re navigating this space was always, I know, a calming voice for me,” Haley said. “To know that we had someone of his caliber at our city, at the forefront helping us to fight this pandemic.”
Haley was the first in Jacksonville to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and got his first dose live on television to make sure to spread the word about the safety of the vaccine and its necessity in fighting the virus.
From the mayor of Jacksonville to Haley’s colleagues at UF Health to fellow community leaders who worked with Haley to spread important information about the fight against COVID-19, all expressed sorrow Saturday and said Haley will be deeply missed.
“Dr. Haley was such an incredible leader and colleague to all of us at UF Health, but he was also a good friend to so many, an amazing advocate for equality in health care, and most importantly a man of integrity who always wanted to do the right thing,” said David R. Nelson, MD, senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “This is not only a tremendous loss to Dr. Haley’s family, friends and the people he led at UF, but also to our communities in North Florida and elsewhere around the country. His leadership and friendship will be missed, but we will come together and continue his vision.”
“The sudden loss of Dr. Leon L. Haley, Jr., reminds us all, that tomorrow is not promised,” Jacksonville City Council President Sam Newby said in a statement. “Dr. Haley was a strong, brilliant and dedicated leader in our community. He will be sorely missed by many. Our thoughts and prayers are with each of his family members and loved ones. May God bless us all.”
Dr Haley meant so much to so many people and to Jacksonville. Losing him is tragic and painful. I’m praying for his family. I always enjoyed our professional interactions but really enjoyed him as a person. We often talked about our families. Below is from a few years ago. https://t.co/gXpQCPNApj— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) July 24, 2021
Our City is so grateful for your service and commitment to our health and safety. Not just throughout this pandemic, but everyday. Thank you Dr. Haley. We will miss you more than words can ever express. https://t.co/hLiFxHyy4M— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) July 24, 2021
Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, shared his shock and disbelief, calling Haley a “wonderful, wonderful human being.”
“I think the thing that made him different than the other deans and CEOs that we have had at UF here in Jacksonville is he became a part of our community. He wasn’t just fighting for what was important for UF Health Jacksonville. He was fighting for what was important for Jacksonville,” Joshi said. “He did more than just lead our teaching hospital, he made an impact in Jacksonville. That’s why so many people were shocked and devastated by this news. You know, that’s probably what hurts me more than the fact that I love him as a person. We had a guy here who people looked up to who was actually making an impact and, being born and raised in Jacksonville, I know that’s few and far between. And so it’s, it’s sad on so many levels.”
Ben Frazier, of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, issued the following statement on Haley’s death:
“This is a devastating loss for Dr. Haley’s family and we offer our condolences to his family and friends.
“Dr. Haley’s passing is a tremendous loss to us all. His work as a physician and a community leader is a shining example that we should all seek emulate. The good that he has done here in Jacksonville will live on, long after his death.”
Dr. Haley was a wonderful leader, and a friend. His absence will be deeply felt, especially right now as our hospital is struggling through a Covid surge. https://t.co/PaUVuNIXzu— Chad Neilsen (@MajEbola) July 24, 2021
I can't imagine how devastating this loss is for Dr. Haley's family. He was a proud, dedicated father, a respected physician and a selfless community leader. We send our condolences to Dr. Haley's family at this incredibly difficult time.— JAX Chamber (@JAXChamber) July 24, 2021
JAX Chamber President /CEO Daniel Davis pic.twitter.com/yq2UFfFNI0
This is heartbreaking. Dr. Haley was the kind of leader the best of us aspire to be. https://t.co/0mQc4kzba0— W. Kent Fuchs (@PresidentFuchs) July 25, 2021
I am shocked and heartbroken to learn of the death of JEA board member, Dr. Leon Haley, Jr. On behalf of JEA employees, my heartfelt condolences go to his family and friends. It was an honor to work with Dr. Haley-his care for JEA and all of NE Florida will be missed.— Jay Stowe (@jstowe928) July 24, 2021
This is a shocking and terrible loss for our community. Dr. Haley was a servant leader, an advocate for our city, and a wonderful person who had a tremendous impact on those fortunate enough to know him. https://t.co/IOSiwKX6D3— Melissa Nelson (@Nelson4SAO) July 25, 2021
It is deeply painful to pen this tweet after learning of Dr. Haley’s death earlier today. My deepest condolences to his family and gratitude for allowing him to share so much time keeping us totally & realistically informed. His passing is a devastating loss to our community.— Audrey Gibson (@SenAudrey2eet) July 25, 2021
#RestinPeace & #RestinPower Dr. Leon Haley. You served our Jacksonville/Duval County community & UF Health with knowledge, distinction & an eye to helping to keep our neighbors whole during the Covid-19 Pandemic & beyond. We are praying for your family & other loved ones. 🙏🏽💜— B.A.Priestly Jackson (@Priestjax) July 24, 2021
This is a heartbreaking loss. My heart and prayers go out to Dr. Haley's family. He provided great leadership in our district and community, and will be missed dearly.— Dr. Diana Greene (@DrDianaGreene) July 25, 2021
Still in shock hearing news that @lhaley3 passed away suddenly. He was a great leader for #Jacksonville, a father and a friend to many. He will be missed. Rest in peace Dr Haley. https://t.co/H93LoZkncm pic.twitter.com/WwEAQO0ASs— Jake Gordon (@jakegordon) July 24, 2021
Devastated by the loss of Leon Haley. He was such an incredibly warm and kind man. We will all miss his friendship and Jacksonville has lost one of its strongest advocates. Prayers to his amazing family and the entire @UFHealth team from all of us @JaxShrimp— Ken Babby (@kenbabby) July 25, 2021