When Cathleen Smith first met Tommy Lasorda Jr. in the early 1980s, the Chanel-suited model was partying it up at Studio 54 and Xenon with the B-52’s and serving as occasional arm candy for legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans. Upon being introduced, the son and namesake of the iconic Los Angeles Dodgers manager inquired with an arched eyebrow: “Cathy Smith, huh? So, what’s your real name?” The party girl whipped out her passport, stuck it under Lasorda Jr.’s nose and issued the following advisory: “Never doubt my word again.” Lasorda Jr. was instantly schooled and smitten.
Reflecting on their introduction three decades later over a late lunch at JCT, Smith laughs and concedes: “I had absolutely no idea who his father was. From that moment on, Tommy went on a mission to marry me!” But a walk down the aisle wasn’t to be. Smith lost her fiance in 1991 at age 33 when he succumbed to pneumonia following a lengthy illness. In the final months of his life, Smith says Lasorda Jr. spoke often of wanting to have a daughter together. They had even selected a name: Violet. To mark the 20th anniversary of his passing, Smith is honoring Lasorda Jr.’s legacy and his life-long love of animals with the creation of The Violet Trust. On Friday night at Paris on Ponce, the slightly reformed party girl and charitable fundraiser will throw the 70s inspired bash Discoween as a benefit for Canine Companions for Independence. Smith’s old friend and B-52’s frontman Fred Schneider is flying in to play DJ at the party. And yes, Violet, Smith’s adorable golden retriever and future service dog will be in attendance.
“Through the work of these incredible animals, this is a way for Tommy’s life and legacy to go on forever,” Smith says. “He was an incredible man, true to his beliefs. He was the male version of me and somehow we found each other!” After Lasorda Jr’s death, Smith honored his memory by becoming a visiting nurse in South Central Los Angeles. But even in iffy neighborhoods, Smith never lost her fashion sense. “I used to have a Chanel suit on under my lab coat!” Smith recalls with a cackle. “I had to learn to drive when I went to nursing school. But the red Mercedes I bought was such a lemon I intentionally parked it in the worst neighborhoods when I went on calls, hoping someone would steal the thing!” Smith says the ploy practically worked one afternoon in South Central. “I came out of a client’s house and discovered the car had been broken into,” she recalls. “They stuck a screwdriver in the ignition but they couldn’t manage to start it. I was so mad! I remember screaming out of my window, ‘You were supposed to steal it, not break it! It cost me $800 for a new ignition. I’m sure there are gang members in South Central who are still trying to figure me out!”
In addition to her work for Canine Companions for Independence and establishing The Violet Trust in Lasorda’s memory, the Buckhead socialite devotes her time these days to throwing the now-annual After Party for Jeffrey Fashion Cares each August, benefiting the Atlanta AIDS Fund and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Last summer, Fashion Cares honoree and New York designer Jason Wu himself donated the fabric for Violet’s fashionable evening frock. After Violet heads off for her service training early next year in Florida, Smith is already planning a sequel: Violet Jo, in honor of Lasorda Jr.’s mother Jo “whom he loved dearly.” In order to raise top dollar for CCI, Smith is quietly underwriting all the costs of Friday night’s Discoween bash at Paris on Ponce. “It’s going to be complete disco mayhem!” Smith previews. She pauses a moment, laughs and adds: “Who knew after all these years I would learn how to throw a fabulous party instead of just attending them!”