WINDSOR, Ont. - Bruce Crozier, an Ontario Liberal MPP and deputy speaker who strove to bring civility back to the House and gave a voice to rural communities, has died. He was 73.

Crozier, who held the Essex seat for nearly 18 years, died in a Windsor hospital Friday night after suffering an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

A veteran politician, he was believed to be the longest serving deputy speaker in the province's history.

In November, Crozier announced he would not seek re-election this fall.

Crozier's colleagues at Queen's Park described him as a true gentleman known for his bowties and his devotion to parliamentary procedure.

"He was a voice of dignity and civility in a Legislature that so often lacked that," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement Saturday.

"I am so sad to learn that he will not be able to enjoy his well-earned retirement."

Premier Dalton McGuinty called Crozier a great friend and public servant who fought hard for his constituents.

Earlier this week, Crozier's peers paid tribute to him and other retiring MPPs in an emotional session that saw many in the House tear up.

"He has always remained true to his beliefs," York-Simcoe MPP Julia Munro said.

"Most importantly, he is a true gentlemen who has conducted himself with honour and dignity at all times."

Others recalled a fair and level-headed man who often used humour to defuse tense situations and heated arguments.

"Sometimes in committee ... we get a little bit passionate about issues, and Bruce has always tried to maintain a level head through that whole process, not let emotions get to him and, quite frankly, use humour in a very disarming way," said Gilles Bisson, MPP for Timmins-James Bay.

"I think that's something that some of us--and I look in the mirror on that one sometimes--should be able to learn."

Over nearly eight years as deputy speaker, Crozier helped referee the province's three warring parties in the often raucous legislature.

In an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this month, he said the level of debate has deteriorated since he was first elected in a 1993 by-election.

"I think because the partisanship has increased, and the 'Gotcha!' mentality of the legislature has increased to the detriment of just good quality debate," Crozier said.

A champion for rural issues, Crozier helped bring family clinics to the communities of Amherstburg, Leamington and Harrow.

He also worked to widen Highway 3 to four lanes from two, and was considered a driving force in keeping Harrow District High School open when it was threatened with closure.

Crozier often joked that none of the private member's bills he introduced ever made it to third reading. In fact, three of them were passed into law, something Crozier said made him very proud.

One bill designated the third week of June as Ontario Wine Week; another declared November to be Bone Marrow Awareness Month; and the other protected individuals from liability stemming from their use of a defibrillator to help someone in a medical emergency.

Before stepping into provincial politics, Crozier served as mayor of Leamington.

He is survived by his wife Joan, their two children and five grandchildren.

"Every member of the Legislature knew that Bruce's family was the most important part of his life," McGuinty said in a statement.

"I know he was very much looking forward to spending more time at home with the family he loved so dearly."