Ben Ruffin, a vocal leader in North Carolina's civil rights movement, died Thursday at the age of 64.

Friends described Ruffin, a former adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt and past chairman of the UNC-Board of Governors, as warm, passionate and principled.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported Thursday that Ruffin is believed to have suffered a heart attack leading to his death in his home Thursday morning.

Ruffin was known for his dedication to the causes of underprivileged blacks. He has received the NAACP Kelly M. Alexander Humanitarian Award.

Appointed in 1998 as the first black chairman of the Board of Governors, Ruffin helped to oversee North Carolina's 16-campus system, simultaneously working to lower tuition rates in the state.

A native of the West End in Durham, Ruffin graduated from Hillside High School and later graduated from North Carolina Central University.

"I saw him as an inspiration for me," said Rev. Keith Daniel, a relative of Ruffin's and director of the Duke Chapel Pathways Program. "He helped open the doors for someone like me to attend a place like Duke."

Erskine Bowles, president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, commented on the loss in a Dec. 7 article of The Triad Business Journal.

"The University has lost a great leader today," Bowles said. "Ben will always be remembered for his positive outlook on life, his great loyalty and determination, and his bedrock belief in the power of education to make our state a better place."