Leslie Allison Taylor Mong, 54, died May 19th with her mother, Alice, and her lifelong friend Molly Talbot Smith beside her, and her sister, Amy Dhillon, nearby. It was the end of a very courageous five-year battle with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
Leslie worked for 20 years as the Art Director, go-to person, and heart and soul of the Pennysaver magazine, instrumental in building it up from its modest beginnings in a two-room house near Parole to the time when multiple Pennysaver titles spread from Annapolis to Crownsville to the Eastern Shore, a multimillion-dollar industry.Managing a staff of some 125 employees, she was considered to be someone who could do anything. "She was a force," says Colleen McLachlan, using a word said repeatedly about Leslie. McLachlan hired her in 1981, and says that by 1984 Leslie was running the show. "She made that company, built it up to what it was," she says, attesting as quickly to Leslie's glowing good nature: "When she had ideas, she wouldn't be competitive. She was a team person. Everybody was included." At that time Leslie was named a TWIN Businesswoman of the Year, nominated by the Pennysaver.
In December of 1995 she was married to Bryan Mong, with whom she had a daughter, Grace, now 13 and a student at Severn School. Leslie resumed work in 2003 when, unsurprisingly, temporary work at the Annapolis Boat Show morphed into a part time and then a full time job at the Waterway Guide. Her employers, Jack and Craig Dozier, were exceptionally supportive during her ensuing illness.
Born in 1958 in Westchester, Pennsylvania, Leslie moved to Annapolis with her family in 1961. She attended elementary school at West Annapolis and Bates, then the Key School from seventh through 11th grades. She spent senior year at the Grier School in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1976. Leslie then gained a BA in Fine Arts at the University of Tampa, Florida, where she was one of several award-winners at a student photography exhibit. She spent her junior year at the University of Strasbourg, in Alsace, France. As an artist herself, she studied major cathedrals in Europe that year, traveling widely. After graduation from UT, she held a personal art show in Tampa, showcasing her artwork: sculpture, painting, drawing and photography.
What Leslie is really known for is as the reliable, generous, sunny-natured center of a community: as the heart of a large, sprawling group of friends for whom she was a constant. She and many of the friends she grew up with eventually settled in and around Annapolis, some in their old neighborhoods, creating a lifelong web of conviviality and mutual assistance. Leslie was energetic and high-spirited, yet fair-minded and accepting, always comfortable to be with. Her lifelong friends number in the many dozens, but all shared a sense that they could pick right back up with her any time. From the days of high school through the present, and as attested by many cards on her last birthday, April 29, many called her "my best friend." When she moved house a year and a half ago, dozens showed up to help, in an uplifting mob scene remembered by anyone who witnessed it. Clem Knox, a neighbor and friend since age 7, also an acupuncturist who treated her old friend continually, says, "She was a sister to so many. That is her legacy."
Leslie, her mother and her sister, Amy, three years younger, shared an almost supernatural closeness during the last years of Leslie's life. Alice Taylor was present for all her medical appointments and treatments, as well as the hospice treatment at the end. Amy says, "I loved her so much. She was strong and brave, wonderful, loving and gracious. She meant so much to so many people." Richard Dabney, who like many was a friend of four decades, says, "In my life there are few people that meant so much as Leslie. She's been a shining light and a source of inspiration and happiness for both myself and my wife." Several times during Leslie's illness, he appeared at her house and cooked dinner, insisting that she and her mother (both renowned cooks) sit still while he served them.
Despite her illness, Leslie remained almost impossibly upbeat, traveling to many locations on her "bucket list." Her father called her twice daily, and Debra Book, who is godmother to Grace, remembers that even when Leslie was in the final several days, she still answered his queries of how she was with a light, "Oh, I'm good."
Leslie loved beach trips, sailing and skiing, and was a skilled gardener and a gourmet cook, who could cook a meal for 50 and remain unflappable and good-humored. She was deeply devoted to her daughter, Grace, and wanted to impart her personal life values in her. On the night of her death, as her breathing became rougher, her mother, remembering that Leslie loved the song "Amazing Grace," and had even requested that another cherished friend, Diana Kaiser Bulger, from the old neighborhood, sing it at her future memorial, began to sing that song. It was 2:00 a.m. Leslie, who had not been responsive since the previous afternoon, began to hum.
Her mother says, "She kept the tune. I sang it to her until I had nothing more in me, then she kept humming it by herself." Leslie hummed for another hour. She died suddenly at 8:30 a.m.
She is survived by her daughter, Grace Mong, of Annapolis; her mother, Alice Taylor of Annapolis; her father, Richard Taylor of Sacramento, California; her sister, Amy Taylor Dhillon, and brother-in-law, Kim Dhillon; and their children, Bradford, Lauren, Michael and Dan. Cousins are Donna Elliot of Ventura, California, Greg Dickerson of South Haven Mississippi, the Reverend Earle Dickinson of Paducah, Kentucky, and Jennifer Cooke of Memphis, Tennessee.
Visitation will be Tuesday from 3-5 and 7-9 p.m. at the Taylor Funeral Home. A service will be Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 171 Duke of Gloucester, Annapolis, with a reception to follow.
Contributions may be sent to METAvivor, 1783 Forest Drive #184, Annapolis, MD 21401, www.metavivor.org, or Wellness House, 2625 Mas Que Farm Rd., Annapolis MD 21403, www.annapoliswellnesshouse.com.
Published in The Capital on May 22, 2012