Helen Libeu (1919-2014)

HelenLibeuThe adage says: “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Well, Helen Libeu certainly left an impression. She died Halloween night a few days after her 95th birthday. Helen was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on October 27th 1919. Her parents were Donald and Emma Cheatham. Raised to be a proper southern lady, she graduated in 1941 from the College of William and Mary with honors and a degree in modern languages. With the outbreak of World War II, she was head-hunted by the Department of the Navy and went to work as an auditor, initially in Norfolk and then later at several naval facilities around the US including the West Coast. Rebelling against her family's expectations, she moved to San Francisco in 1948 and later settled in Sebastopol, starting a commercial nursery called “Plant Horizons.” Helen's considerable intellect and energy were soon turned to civic affairs, especially those related to schools and the environment. She worked to pass measures and get people elected to various posts. She also ran for school boards herself, serving on the Oak Grove Elementary and Analy High school boards in the 1970s. Later on, she parlayed that experience into a role on the California Teacher's Credentialing Commission.

Her biggest public contribution was decades of tireless work on the regulation of forestry in California. Initially with her husband Leon Libeu and then alone after his death, she was instrumental in several lawsuits that forced lumber companies in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties to follow state and federal environmental regulations. Her mission was to protect coastal watersheds by preventing overlogging. Helen passionately believed that the large timber companies should follow the same rules as small owners rather than use their influence to obtain exceptions to the regulations. Into her late 80s, she was a consistent attendant of Timber Harvest Plan Review meetings and regularly made the trip up to Sacramento to lobby officials.

A timber-owner herself, she had a particular fondness for coastal redwoods. Second only to her son Peter, she loved a small grove of redwoods that she owned outside the town of Boonville. In managing her property, she was a pioneer in sustainable timber management and a staunch supporter of independent loggers who practiced sustainable logging techniques. To accomplish her goals, Helen worked with everyone from local politicians to members of Earth First! In the environmental community, she was known for her intolerance of incompetence and her humor.

In one memorable incident, she obtained a State Forester’s license for her dog, Iggy, to demonstrate weaknesses in the licensing system. She was eventually appointed a member of the State Forester’s License board and worked tirelessly to improve the quality of the California's Licensed Foresters.

Helen was an active, independent thinker who did things her way. Widowed at 63, she turned her hobby of collecting antiques into a successful business while maintaining her civic involvement. For 14 years, she was the proprietor of “Apples, Antiques and Art” in Railroad Square in Santa Rosa and was active in the Railroad Square Association.

As a daughter of segregated Virginia who was raised at a time when former confederate soldiers were still active in civic affairs, she took great pleasure in being able to vote for Barack Obama. In retirement, Helen was a voracious reader and she left her family a library of books on every imaginable topic.

Along with her husband and parents, she was pre-deceased by her brother Richard, her stepson David Libeu and stepdaughter Marilyn Kercher. In addition to her son, she is survived by her long-time daughter-in-law Clare Peters-Libeu and by two grandsons. She is also survived by her stepsons Paul Libeu (Joyce) and Jack Libeu (Alice) and their children. There will be a life celebration event at a later date.

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