Rodger McFarlane, a leading civil rights pioneer for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and HIV communities, died May 15 in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. He took his own life. According to a letter found with his remains, he had been suffering from worsening heart and back problems and did not want his illnesses to become debilitating.

McFarlane’s HIV advocacy began in 1981, when he set up the first AIDS hotline out of his home. He went on to become the first paid executive director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), a leading New York City AIDS service organization. Until his death, he was the president emeritus of Bailey House, the nation’s first supportive housing provider for people living with HIV.

From 1989 to 1994, he was the executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA), merging both organizations into one of the most successful HIV/AIDS fund-raising efforts in the United States. McFarlane was also a founding member of ACT UP New York, the activist group credited with influencing public policy and urging for improved drug treatment and delivery processes.

Most recently, McFarlane was the executive director of the Gill Foundation, one of the country’s largest fund-raising organizations advocating for LGBT justice.

“Rodger had a reputation as a hard-ass. That reputation didn’t do him justice,” friends and family wrote in a statement. “Many of us will remember Rodger as a caregiver, a man who nursed countless friends and family members battling cancer and AIDS. He was the most compassionate and giving of friends, especially to those in physical or emotional distress.”

McFarlane was recently honored with the Patient Advocacy Award from the American Psychiatric Association.