Mario Smolinisky, a 41-year resident of Pacific Palisades, died peacefully surrounded by his loving family on Oct. 18, 2016. He was 70.
Mario was the personification of the American Dream. An immigrant who became a successful businessman in the garment industry, the common thread of his life was love. Mario was born Nov. 23, 1945 in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he grew up with his parents Adolfo and Sara and sister, Betty. Born with a birthmark splashed across his face, he suffered taunts from other children but found a way to be courageous and eventually won people over with his kind heart and magnanimous personality.
After his father became ill, Mario quit school at 13 to support his family. In 1963 Mario’s Uncle Sam moved to the United States. After reading Sam’s glowing accounts of the “land of opportunity,” Mario emigrated from Argentina at the age of 17, with $17 in his pocket.
With no knowledge of the English language, an elementary school education and little work experience, Mario was determined to succeed. He immediately visited the Social Security office to register for a card, which would allow him to work legally. Mario started knocking on garment industry doors and secured his first job less than 24 hours after arriving in the country, earning $1.25 an hour for sweeping the factory floors and doing odd jobs.
Realizing that mastering the English language would be key to a bright future, he began earnestly learning the language by reading the Los Angeles Times and listening to Vin Scully, the announcer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mario’s curiosity, diligence and willingness to learn soon earned him a trainee cutter’s job, which launched a 40-year career in the “schmatta” business (Yiddish for rag). He loved his new life, and it was about to get even better.
In 1966, Mario went to an Argentine club in Boyle Heights where he met a stunning 17-year-old Argentine immigrant named Carolina “Carol,” though she was known to Mario as “Polly.” Their friendship blossomed into love. But since Mario was Jewish and Carol was Catholic, they initially kept their relationship a secret from their families. As their love for each other deepened, Mario and Carol were determined to start a life together. Despite the objections of their families, they married in a beautiful ceremony on Sept. 13, 1969.
With Carol in his life, Mario felt invincible. Bolstered by her unconditional love and support, in the early 1970s, he started Polimar Fashions, named after his wife and himself. The company sewed clothing for various fashion lines. The business ultimately grew to 150 employees. In 1985, he partnered with Ben Altshuler to start their own clothing line, “Wild Rose.” The new venture soared to success beyond his wildest dreams. In its heyday, Wild Rose was carried in Bloomingdale’s, Bullock’s, Broadway and every other major department store in the nation.
In 1975, he and Carol bought their first home in the Pacific View Estates neighborhood of the Palisades. With an ocean view, a Mercedes-Benz SL convertible in the garage and a loving marriage, Mario had it all. It was a quintessential rags to riches story. But the fabric of his life wasn’t complete until the birth of their daughter Lisa in 1975 and son Alan in 1979.
For all his success in business, Mario found his true calling as a family man. Devoted and selfless, he always put family first—always insuring he was home for dinner at 6:30 and attending every game, tennis match, recital or school event. Leading by example, Mario instilled responsibility in his children and reminded them to “Always do your best!”
Lisa and Alan attended schools in the Palisades, Mario’s favorite place on earth. In 1983, the family moved to the Huntington to be closer to everything the Palisades had to offer.
The loving husband and doting father started a number of family traditions: Mort’s Deli every Monday night, Caffe Delfini on Fridays, Acapulco for the holidays, and vacations in Lake Tahoe, Hawaii and Cancun.
A football and soccer follower, die-hard Lakers and Dodgers fan and tennis enthusiast, he and Carol hosted backyard barbecues and parties for every major sporting event. An athlete himself, Mario loved running and logged 35 miles per week for 40 years. He looked forward to the Palisades Fourth of July 10K race every year, and his goal was always to beat his age. And he did it every year. In 2014 at age 68, he ran the challenging and hilly 10K in 67 minutes and 59 seconds, beating his age by one second.
As his life in the Palisades flourished, the American garment industry was winding down as only five percent of clothing was American-made. Mario saw the writing on the wall and decided to retire in 2003 at age 57.
He and Carol made the most of his newfound free time and spent every moment together. They traveled extensively, both in the U.S. and abroad, including a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world. They also enjoyed simple pleasures like strolling hand-in-hand to the Village for a leisurely lunch or running errands. The good-hearted Mario was always ready to chat with fellow Palisadians and beamed with pride whenever he spoke about his children. Since he was never able to finish school himself, giving Lisa and Alan a good education was very important to him. He cried tears of joy as he watched them graduate from Cal Berkeley and USC Law School (Lisa) and USC (Alan). He couldn’t help but boast about Lisa, who became an attorney, and Alan, who followed in Mario’s footsteps as an entrepreneur and businessman.
When his children married, he welcomed daughter-in-law Caroline and son-in-law Anders to the family with open arms. He paced nervously outside the delivery room for the births of all five of his grandchildren: Charlie (whose middle name is Mario), Johnny, Anna, Julia and Samantha. To their grandchildren, Carol and Mario were known as “Nana-Hapa,” with their two names combined into a single phrase as the two of them were always together. They spent much time with the grandkids, always ready to play fireman, construction worker or gardener with them or take them to their many activities.
Mario continued spreading love throughout his life, even after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in May 2016. Upon learning his diagnosis, Mario quipped that he had no “bucket list.” He had accomplished more in his lifetime than he ever dreamed possible as a young boy in Argentina and was forever grateful for his good fortune and more importantly for his tight-knit family.
Mario’s legacy of love will live on in his wife of 47 years Carol, daughter Lisa Richardson and husband Anders, son Alan Smolinisky and wife Caroline, his five grandchildren and sister Betty.
A memorial service attended by hundreds of friends, neighbors and family members was held in the Huntington Park he loved so much. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to City of Hope, attn.: Dr. Ravi Salgia (lung cancer research), 1500 East Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010.
Note: Mario is the father of Palisadian-Post owner Alan Smolinisky.
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