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Friends, colleagues reflect on legacy of Dr. Leon Haley

"His reach was immeasurable. He might have been small in stature, but his reach was one that covered this community."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As the First Coast medical community fights the latest surge of COVID-19, they are mourning the loss of UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley.

Dr. Haley was trained in emergency medicine before becoming the first Black CEO in the hospital's history. While he only served four years, he left a great legacy behind.

"His reach was immeasurable," said Mia Jones, CEO of Agape Community Health Clinic. "He might have been small in stature, but his reach was one that covered this community."

In December 2020, the Pittsburgh native became the first in Florida to take the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. He believed in leading by being the example.

Jones described him as a servant leader.

She said she worked with Dr. Healy to address the health disparities in the Black community. 

Among his focus were education, access to healthcare and proper dieting.   

"We have been blessed to see a champion amongst us who was willing to walk with us and to make sure there was improvement in the lives we were living," Jones recalled.

Dr. Haley died over the weekend in a jet ski accident in Palm Beach County. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is investigating the accident.

Earlier in the day, Haley had a conference call with Chad Nielsen.

Nielsen said Haley was his friend, and they worked together to address issues like vaccine hesitancy.

"I would be lying if I did not say the entire organization is struggling right now myself included," said Nielsen.

He said Dr. Haley was the beating heart of the community he represented.

"His heart was always been providing care to those who can't do it themselves; The most uninsured or underserved: That what his mission was," Nielsen explained. 

The legacy of Dr. Haley goes beyond the Duval County line. 

On social media condolences and words of comfort from across the country.

Tweets about his commitment as an advocate for equality in health care.

"His last day at the hospital, he was giving vaccines here on one of our surgical floors," Nielsen remembered. "He walked the walk and he talked that talk."

Dr. Haley is survived by his family, his friends and a community that will remember his legacy. 

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