TRINITY — Brenda Zalon, a perfectionist who believed in parties, served the kind of hors d'oeuvres her guests would never see again.
She carved watermelons in the shape of boats or birds, then filled them with melon balls topped with sangria. A layered ring of ice cooled the punch bowl, which had fruit wedges and maraschino cherries trapped tantalizingly inside it.
Everything had its place for Mrs. Zalon, including work and play. She felt at home for 26 years in the massive headquarters of Reader's Digest, a colonial building in Chappaqua, N.Y., where four Pegasus statues surrounded a cupola in front.
Mrs. Zalon died Nov. 7 at Mease Dunedin Hospital. She was 72 and had a history of diabetes and heart trouble.
She loved throwing parties and thrived on the adrenaline of getting ready. Her only daughter was allowed to watch and help but not interfere with her mother's gourmet cooking.
"She would come up behind me and take the knife out of my hand," said Debra Lieven, 49. "I learned to cook by osmosis. My job was to set the table and hand her stuff."
Her mother worked just as hard at making and keeping friends.
"Everywhere she went, she made more friends," her daughter said.
Even a black cat Mrs. Zalon adopted adored her for years while attacking her husband and daughter repeatedly.
The New York City native met Paul Zalon at Queens College, where they shared a Jewish heritage and an indifference to academics. After they married, he went on to become a quality assurance director for Nestle. Trick-or-treaters never failed to stop by their home in Somers, N.Y., where the couple in pirate costumes handed out Nestle chocolate.
Mrs. Zalon started at Reader's Digest answering phones, but quickly worked her way up to advertising copy editor. Magazine co-founders DeWitt and Lila Wallace gave employees Fridays off for several weeks each summer, and allowed them to garden on the company's palatial campus.
The "summer Fridays" benefit suited Mrs. Zalon, who took long car trips on a whim. Other loves included buying fashionable clothes and trying any menu item at least once, especially if she had no idea what it was.
"She could be very playful," her daughter said. "She could sit down to dinner, take a straw and blow the paper covering at me."
Always ready to speak her mind, she and her daughter had "five-minute fights" and moved on.
The Zalons retired to Palm Harbor in 1999, where she edited the newsletter for her gated community. Several years ago, her family visited her in the hospital to find her with her hair done and makeup on.
"She said, 'I'm going to come back and make this huge Thanksgiving dinner," her daughter recalled. "Which she did."
This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: Paul Zalon was a quality assurance director for Nestle. An earlier version of this story cited a different company.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.