JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr., who died this weekend in a personal watercraft accident in South Florida, was more than just the man who ran the large hospital and medical group.
News4Jax learned he was also a proud father of three children. One of his children, Grant Haley, is a cornerback for the New Orleans Saints. He has two other children, Nichelle and Wesley.
Dr. Haley, 56, made an immediate impact in Jacksonville after taking over UF Health Jacksonville in 2018, but he didn’t originally start out dreaming of a job in medicine. He studied at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and an article from Pitt Med states that growing up in Pittsburgh, Dr. Haley “dreamed of becoming the first African American sportscaster on network television.”
“But that changed when I mixed basketball with a trampoline,” he told the magazine in 2017.
Dr. Haley eventually went to work at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta before becoming the CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. People who worked with Haley said he was kind to everyone.
“I haven’t met someone who’s such a consummate professional but could personally connect with every single person he met,” said Chad Neilsen, UF Health Jacksonville director of accreditation and infection prevention, who worked wth Dr. Haley. “You would never see him without a smile on his face.”
Neilsen described Dr. Haley as a family man who was very proud of his three children.
“We all knew him. We knew his son played for the New York Giants, and now his son is a player for the New Orleans Saints. He’s got other daughters, one plays volleyball at college,” Neilsen said. “We knew him. He was one of us.”
Agape Health CEO Mia Jones knew Dr. Haley well, saying that when he moved to Jacksonville, he immediately ingratiated himself with the community.
“He was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, so he had fraternity brothers that were here, that he could easily connect with,” Jones said. “He was a member of the medical society, so he had medical professionals across the country that he was connecting with.”
Haley was also very involved with getting funding for community health needs, and Agape Health was one of the organizations that he worked closely with.
“He was definitely one that was not an introvert by any means,” Jones said. “So he could walk into a room and feel comfortable, standing flat-footed, letting himself know why he was here and what he wanted to do.”
There are still ongoing discussions of funeral arrangements. It’s unclear whether his funeral will take place in Jacksonville or Pittsburgh. If the service is held in Pittsburgh, UF Health Jacksonville told News4Jax that it will likely hold a memorial in Jacksonville.
News4Jax has reached out to Dr. Haley’s family, which includes his three children, to see if they want to say anything publicly about their father.