French language activist Gilles Rhéaume, a longtime high-profile hardliner on sovereignty and language issues in Quebec, has died in Longueuil at the age of 63.

Rhéaume headed up a variety of groups focusing on language and separation including a four-year-stint at the helm of the Societe St. Jean Baptiste de Montreal from 1981 to 1985.

He frequently denounced the usage of English and once organized a protest outside of the Jewish General Hospital after Radio Canada broadcaster Normand Lester reported that a nurse asked him to speak English. Rheaume said he decided to go forward with the protest even though his sister reminded him that she had her sight restored as a three-year-old at that very hospital.

In the early 1990s he also worked at a support group for people with HIV-AIDS.

Rheaume was not popular among many English-speakers but those in his circles had nothing but praise for him on Sunday.

SSJB president Maxime Laporte described Rheaume as one of “Quebec’s greatest defenders“ and described Rheaume as “inspiring, passionate and profoundly independent."

PQ Interim leader Stéphane Bédard saluted Rheaume’s “impressive determination and profound convictions.”

Bedard added: “His name will always be associated with the quest for independence because he had faith in the ability of Quebecers to take their destiny into their own hands.”

-With a file from The Canadian Press