City leaders, colleagues mourn sudden loss of UF Health Jacksonville CEO

As news began to spread Saturday 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.

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:

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.

UF Health CEO gets 1st COVID-19 vaccine in Florida

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. 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.”

Shock and grief is pouring in from around the city, after the sudden death of U-F Health CEO, Doctor Leon Haley Junior.

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.”

We are so saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Leon Haley Jr., CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. Our hearts go out to...

Posted by Sulzbacher on Sunday, July 25, 2021

About the Authors:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.