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The end of an era: Belleview’s Dr. Ronald Shelley passes away

By Bryce Abshier – Contact

For nearly five decades, many South Marion residents relied on the guidance of Belleview’s Dr. Ronald Shelley for their medical needs. The community is now left to mourn the late doctor, as he passed away on Saturday, January 20, 2024.

With years dedicated to serving a single community as a family care doctor, it’s inevitable to develop a reputation – especially when possessing a vibrant personality like that of Dr. Shelley’s. That’s probably why so many of his patients would soon become his personal friends. Those who knew him as their primary care doctor recall a down-to-earth, humble demeanor that can be a rarity amongst physicians. “If he didn’t know what was wrong, he wasn’t afraid to say so,” explained one longtime patient. His personality bore no trace of pretension or superiority complex, not even the slightest hint.

Shelley’s passing signifies more than the loss of a single doctor, but also the end of a bygone era in family medicine. For many, it was a simpler time, a time of common sense, a time of getting in touch with your doctor by just showing up at his office – no appointment necessary. As a matter of fact, when Shelley first opened up shop in Belleview, appointments did not exist. Patients would just show up, sign their name onto a clipboard, and that was all there was to it – they would be seen, no matter the circumstances or how long it took. Good luck trying that today.

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His offices were much different from the homogeneously sterile and bland primary care offices that are commonplace today. Rather, his offices were decked out with an ecliptic mix of (mostly recycled) mismatched chairs, couches, and maybe even an old television set in the waiting room showing daytime soap operas. There was absolutely no snobbery about his office, because that’s the sort of doctor he was. Payments for services rendered by Doctor Shelley, at times, could be unconventional. He is best remembered as a doctor who saw the value in helping the patient first, while getting paid was secondary and less important.

Stories are told of times patients could not afford their visit, and Shelley would find a way to barter with them. Maybe they’d exchange chicken eggs (probably eggs he didn’t even want), or perhaps they’d offer to do some lawn work, but either way Shelley found a way to help patients no matter their financial circumstance. Getting paid was a matter of secondary importance, whereas helping people get better always came first.

Dr. Ronald Shelley’s primary care office and the Voice of South Marion each had something in common. Both opened for business in the same month of the same year – October, 1969. As such, Dr. Shelley was featured on the front of page of the second-ever Voice issue. “Someone to cure South Marion’s growing pains” headlined the front page article announcing his arrival in town, accompanied by a picture of the smiling young doctor.

Shelley, originally from Jacksonville Beach, graduated from the University of Florida after four years where he earned a B.S. Degree majoring in Bacteriology. Perhaps unsure of what direction he yet wanted to go in life, he spent one year teaching high school. Shortly after, he earned a D.O. in medicine at the Kansas City College of Osteopathy and Surgery. He then served in United States Army, where he was stationed in Brooke Army Hospital of San Antonio, Texas. After his release from the military in 1969, Belleview became his permanent home.

The friends that came to know Shelley over the decades recall him as a little eccentric, with many far-reaching hobbies and interests. He loved his longtime Lake Lillian home in the heart of Belleview, as well as another home on Lake Weir, where he could enjoy the rich scenery and natural beauty of South Marion county. He even dabbled in flying small airplanes, owning a small Cessna 172 aircraft that he would occasionally take off with from local grass runways. “I’m not sure I would have gotten in the plane with him flying it though,” joked one longtime friend of Shelley. He loved being social, and enjoyed celebrating with close friends frequently.

Shelley was known for his love of dogs, too. He could often be seen around town with his beloved chihuahua, who would even go to work and see patients with him.

That’s just the type of person he was. Shelley was a small town doctor who marched to the beat of his drum, and South Marion county was better for it.

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