UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley remembered as ‘compassionate’ and ‘brilliant’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The news of UF Health Jacksonville’s CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr.’s passing shocked the health community this weekend.

Doctors across the country are expressing their grief over the loss of a colleague, friend, and mentor.

Here in Jacksonville, Baptist Health President and CEO Michael Mayo echoed those words.

“He is a dedicated scientist as a physician and an emergency physician. He has been a standout in his field both as a clinical practitioner and leading the organization at UF Health,” Mayo said.

Dr. Haley touched the lives of many doctors, some calling him a “brilliant man” with a “compassionate soul.”

“He was the first person in our community to be vaccinated when UF was given the first vaccines and he didn’t hesitate one bit,” Mayo said.

Dr. Haley served as UF Health’s first black CEO – he played a pivotal role in distributing vaccines to underserved communities.

Outside of the hospital, he served the community in many roles.

Dr. Haley served on the Florida Hospital Association’s Board of Trustees and on the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s Board of Directors.

He was also a board member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and the Jacksonville Civic Council, among others.

“He was a very genuine individual, high integrity, and he was an expert listener,” Mayo said.

Bethel Baptist Church Lead Pastor Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr. remembered the first time he met Dr. Haley.

“The way he introduced himself to me told me so much about him,” Bishop McKissick said.

The two teamed up this past year to host a covid vaccination site at Bethel Baptist Church.

“There was this seriousness yet gentleness in the way that he talked that let you know that he was a passionate person but that he was convicted about whatever he was talking about,” Bishop McKissick said.

In their handful of conversations, Bishop Mckissick knew Dr. Haley was special, which is something other colleagues also saw.

“He had that ability to remember little personal facts about everyone and that’s so special in the leader of such a large organization,” UF Health Jacksonville Director of Infection Control Chad Neilsen said.

Now, the health community must move forward amid a covid surge without one of its pivotal members.

“He’s obviously someone who is extremely difficult to replace, if we can replace him. I don’t think we can,” Nielsen said. “The succession planning and senior leadership from UF Health System are here on campus today to sort of figure out what’s the next steps.”

Bishop McKissick only hopes we can follow in Dr. Haley’s eager footsteps.

“I think he leaves that legacy of passion behind for us to continue to build on that,” Bishop McKissick said.

As for the future of UF Health Jacksonville, officials don’t have an exact answer on Monday but they said it will be clearer later this week.