Well-known environmental activist Jane Elizabeth Lareau died peacefully in her sleep at her Mt. Pleasant home on Monday night after a long battle with cancer.

Lareau was among the first staffers at the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League when it began more than 20 years ago.

“She was a great friend. She was an essential part of the Conservation League,” said Dana Beach, league founder.

He described Lareau as passionate, fearless and relentless in her defense of nature. She gave others the courage to stand up for the environment, he said.

Before her work as a conservationist, Lareau was a journalist for The Columbia Record, The State and The News and Courier. She was head of the public relations department at the College of Charleston, worked in media relations at the Medical University of South Carolina and served as press secretary for Congressman Arthur Ravenel Jr.

She held leadership positions in the Sierra Club and Audubon Society

and was a recipient of the Harriet Keyserling Conservation Advocacy Award.

In an interview with The Post and Courier in 2009, Laureau cited saving Sandy Island and preventing large-scale hog farms in South Carolina as conservation accomplishments of which she was proud. The island is now permanently protected by the Nature Conservancy.

In the same interview, she was candid about how cancer brought into sharper focus for her what is important in life.

“I really think we overload ourselves with ‘to-do’s’ and as a result are more frantic than fulfilled. Cancer forced me to drop all the extraneous stuff and focus on the important things, something we should all be doing anyway,” she said.

Laureau led efforts to create the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. She convinced the U.S. Forest Service to restore native longleaf pines in the Francis Marion National Forest, said Conservation Voters of South Carolina.

“We mourn the passing of our friend and guardian of South Carolina’s environment, Jane Lareau,” said Ann Timberlake, CVSC executive director.

Lareau wrote extensively in periodicals such as Sierra Magazine and South Carolina Wildlife Magazine. She and Dr. Richard Porcher co-authored “Lowcountry: The Natural Landscape.”

She was born on Aug. 30, 1951, in Woonsocket, R.I. She grew up in Sumter, where she developed a passion for the environment when she was troubled by the loss of landscape to subdivisions and shopping malls.

She is survived by her mother and seven siblings: Leslie Lareau DeWitt, Alain Lareau, Donna Lareau, Carol and Noel Lareau, Ashley and Blaise Lareau, Paula Lareau, and Dianne and Neil Lareau.

A celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Mother House, Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, 424 Fort Johnson Road, James Island. Memorial contributions may be made to the Coastal Conservation League, 328 East Bay St., Charleston, 29401 or Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.

Arrangements are by J. Henry Stuhr, Mount Pleasant Chapel