Katie O'Malley's march

The mother of four and Baltimore District Court judge now juggles a new responsibility _ first lady (but don't call her that)

February 05, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,sun reporter

Four-year-old Jack O'Malley was walking straight toward the barrier of ferns that decorated the edge of the raised podium where his father would deliver his inaugural address.

But before he reached the stage's perilous perimeter, Jack's mother gently reeled him in. She tucked the boy under her coat - with only his head poking out, he resembled a baby marsupial - and then stifled a giggle.

No one was the wiser. The state of the youngest member of Maryland's first family was secure.

Catherine Curran O'Malley has grown accustomed to just such moments. Lots of children. Lots of attention. And with many Maryland residents watching the first lady's debut, big pressure, too. Yet, she held it together - without a grimace or groan, smiling throughout. An adept multi-tasker.

As Martin O'Malley settles into the governor's job, his wife is juggling her responsibilities as first lady, a commuting Baltimore District Court judge and a mother of four. She comes from a prominent political family, the daughter of J. Joseph Curran Jr., the former state attorney general and lieutenant governor who spent nearly a half-century in public life. But because she is a judge she must abide by the court's prohibition against "partisan political activity," which restricted her from campaigning for her husband. As a result, even her voice remains a mystery to many Marylanders.

Though the O'Malleys and their three dogs have moved from their modest Baltimore home to the governor's mansion in Annapolis, she'll also keep her court assignment - which will continue to limit her public work. But she says she's looking forward to the challenge of balancing all her duties and that she'll manage, as she always has, with the help of loved ones and friends.

"I've always had a lot of people saying `You know, you've got a lot on your plate, why don't you let me take this off?'" O'Malley, 44, said during an interview last week in a sitting room of Government House. "I learned early on to say, `OK, thanks.' Because it really was the only way to get through it. I think that sort of made it all work without me having gone crazy."

Described by colleagues and neighbors as candid and sincere - someone who has opted for a family-style dinner at the governor's mansion so her children don't get used to being served - O'Malley appears comfortable with the latest round of chaos. But to spend just a few minutes with O'Malley, who has long, auburn hair and laughs loud and often during a 90-minute interview, is to discover that she's at ease talking about almost anything.

She said, for example, that it's hard to resist the mansion's delectable food, which is prepared by three chefs. "If I ate three meals a day here, it would be `Super Size Me,'" she said, referring to the film about a man who grows fat living off fast food.

She remembers thinking that her husband was "a nerd" when she met him.

She's quick to chat frankly about a range of other topics, from being pregnant at her wedding to the friskiness of a family dog named Scout that was fixed, but, O'Malley noted, "still has the drive."

O'Malley has an opinion as well about being called first lady. She doesn't like it.

"I have a problem with that first lady thing," she said. "I keep saying, just call me Katie. ... It's a little pretentious, walking around calling yourself the job title that you are."

Lessons in modesty

O'Malley learned about humility from her father, a modest man who recently stepped down after two decades as Maryland attorney general.

Having grown up in a big political family in Baltimore, the third of four Curran children, the first lady isn't taken with the trappings of office and didn't consider bagging her career to host dinners at Government House, Curran said.

"I think she's bright and has a lot of energy, and she can do both," said Curran, who sat next to his daughter in Annapolis last week during the governor's first major policy address.

Certainly, life in the Curran household in Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood served as fitting training. Joe Curran, a product of Baltimore's Irish-Catholic machine who also served in the state Senate and House of Delegates, was always running for something, and O'Malley cut her teeth making the sale for her dad. The Curran children pitched in, knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes, introducing him at rallies.

But O'Malley also learned the value of family from her parents, including her mother, Barbara, a painter. Her father frequently made them breakfast, greeting his three daughters in the morning with the same song.

"The most beautiful girl on Springlake Way, and she goes to Notre Dame. She has a dog named Lamont. She has a brother named Max ... " Curran would croon as he fried eggs for the girls, each of whom would have qualified.

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