Patricia Altschul and Whitney Sudler-Smith make up one of the most loving mother-son duos we know. But ever since we met Whitney in Season 1 of Southern Charm, we've been curious to know more about his background, namely who his father is and what he's like.
Now Patricia is opening up about her life before Southern Charm like never before in her new book, The Art of Southern Charm, which was released on April 18. Patricia begins the book with a section called "Becoming Patricia," which details how she became the Southern Charm grand dame we all know and love today — including how she met her first husband and Whitney's father, Lon Smith.
Patricia shared that she was introduced to Lon through a friend when she was living in Washington, D.C. while attending George Washington University. Patricia described Lon as "good-looking" and "mature" since he was five years older than her, and he was the head of Dun & Bradstreet at the time. "When you're Southern and in your twenties, marriage is a top priority," Patricia writes, adding that she had a small wedding ceremony with just their immediate families. She wore a short peach dress and a hat with a veil.
The couple then settled in Virginia. Patricia commuted to school to continue her studies in art history and archaeology, and Lon worked during the day and attended graduate school for his MBA at night. Patricia received her BA in art history in 1965 and would go on to receive her master's degree from GW in 1966. "My classes were difficult, but a full courseload was easier than the domestic challenges that awaited me at home," Patricia writes. "Cooking dinner was one of them. I was completely inept in the kitchen—untrained, untalented, and, I dare say, uninterested."
When Patricia became an instructor and eventually an assistant professor of art appreciation and a survey of Western art at GW, Lon would accompany her to chaperone groups of students studying abroad in Europe. And then Patricia and Lon's life became even busier when they welcomed Whitney into the world on June 2, 1968. "I put a lot of thought into what we would call the baby because when you're working with a last name as common as Smith, you have to be creative," Patricia wrote of the inspiration for her son's name. "'Whitney' was the perfect choice: while it came from my mother's Mainline, Philadelphia, side of the family, it is also very Southern. Sudler was my mother's maiden name, and it was a nice alliterative companion to Smith. I thought that the hyphen added a touch of drama and made it a different name. There's no other Whitney Sudler-Smith."
The family spent some time in New York while Lon attended a business training program before settling in Falls Church, Virginia. Patricia writes that Lon was a great teacher in the ways of etiquette for Whitney. "Honestly, Lon was such a gentleman that Whitney learned by his example," she described. "He saw his father open my car door, or stand when I entered the room, and eventually it became second nature for him to do the same."
Patricia said that her life seemed like something out of those wholesome, picture-perfect family sitcoms of the 1950s, like Father Knows Best or The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet until she and Lon realized they "were growing apart." "Actually, we were so young when we married that maybe we were finally growing up," Patricia writes. "After fourteen lovely years of marriage, there was no acrimony between us—just a sense that we were moving in different directions. Our separation and divorce were completely civilized and our main concern was always our son."
Patricia opens up about her life like never before in her new book out now. Photo: Diversion Books
Patricia and Lon each settled in Georgetown, where Whitney attended school, and "established a seamless coparenting schedule," according to the Southern Charm mom. "Lon and I spoke frequently and were pleasant, respectful, and harmonious. There was nothing pernicious about our relationship at the time, and we're still that way after all these years," she writes. "I couldn't have picked a better father for Whitney, who never had to feel divided about his feelings for his parents."
Patricia previously told The Daily Dish that her first husband is "intensely private" and "is a lovely man." Check out some photos of Patricia and Whitney through the years, below.