Fiery community organizer and civil rights advocate Dyan French Cole, widely known as "Mama D," died Saturday morning at Sanctuary at Passages Hospice in New Orleans after a long struggle with cancer. She was 72.

Cole was a trailblazer. In January 1975, she became the first woman to become president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP.

But often, she worked solo. A firebrand with a quick wit, she was often seen talking with young people — often with an arm around them as she spoke.

“She was the rock of New Orleans,” said longtime friend Eric Burt. “She looked out for everybody. If she only had a plate of food, she would give you half of it.”

"Dyan French Cole was an authentic truthsayer and a one-person community-accountability force of nature," former Mayor Marc Morial said in an email. He said her "in-your-face style reflected the no-nonsense activism and passion of the civil rights movement."

Both Morial and his father, former Mayor Dutch Morial, relied upon Cole as a trusted and reliable friend, supporter and community leader whom they would consult frequently "to ascertain the thoughts and pulse" of the city, Marc Morial said.

"And through her role as one of the mothers of the community, she befriended, challenged, cajoled, called out and hugged you," Morial wrote. "She was simply Mama D — never to be replicated, duplicated or imitated."

A lifelong New Orleanian, Cole graduated from Joseph S. Clark High School.

Nearly every day, she headed to Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to advocate for young black men who were appearing in court that day.

When she met Sen. Barack Obama as he campaigned in the city, he asked about her concerns. She told him: “I have but one. Please give our black men some relief from the double standards in the criminal justice system.”

Cole was well known for not taking no for an answer. Nearly every official of any stature in the city was drowned out at some point by Cole, whose appearances at City Council meetings often led to her being escorted away from the podium by police officers when she refused to obey time limits and stop hectoring the council members.

In her remarks, she often referred to the public official in charge as “baby,” and she nearly always harkened back to her days in the civil rights movement. “I’m from the '60s, baby,” she’d say.

After Hurricane Katrina, when she refused to evacuate, Cole organized crews she called the Soul Patrol, to go through her native 7th Ward and other neighborhoods, saving people, feeding them and finding them clothes, assistance and other relief. She housed so many people at her home on North Dorgenois Street that some people referred to it as Recovery Camp Dorgenois.

In a statement Saturday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu cited Cole's advocacy for "quality housing, recreation and justice" and noted especially her work with the Stallings Gentilly Playground and the NAACP.

In December 2005, Cole testified in front of a congressional committee investigating the response to Katrina a few months before. In her rambling but pointed way, she told the committee what had gone wrong:

“Why would you get in the public media and ask a city where 80 percent of its citizens ride public transport to evacuate? What were they supposed to do? Fly? Get on a broom?” she asked, adding that none of this should be laid at the feet of President George W. Bush. “I ain’t blaming Mr. Bush for all this. He got caught up, poor baby,” she said.

Cole asked the committee for just enough help so that she and her neighbors could stand on their own. “I beg you all, you know, right now the main thing we need — because I didn’t just come with questions, we came with solutions — we need you all to take FEMA and FEMA mama and daddy, and Red Cross and all the rest of them people and just take them somewhere, just get them out of my neighborhood.”

She went on: “We did not lose our ability to fish. Don’t bring the fish to our door, just bring us some fishing poles and some bait. We didn’t lose our minds. I don't know why we didn’t, but we could have. We lost all of the necessities we need to support our survival. Just give us that. Just give us that, and I promise you, in six months ... come back, we're going to make you some gumbo.”

Survivors include a son, Byron Cole; a sister, Audrey Jackson; and six grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.