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Lady of the House
First lady Katie O’Malley plays dress-up in the latest spring looks—and chats about work, family and her own sense of style.

Interview by Laura Wexler

“Never in my 50 years,” says Katie O’Malley when asked if she’s ever participated in the elaborate undertaking that is a fashion shoot for a glossy magazine. On this Sunday morning in March, a small army—a photographer, several assistants and several stylists led by Baltimore Style fashion editor Suzin Boddiford—have invaded Government House, injecting a riot of 21st-century color and pattern into the 1870 Georgian manse. Luckily, the noise doesn’t wake 10-year-old Jack, who’s snoozing away upstairs, convinced to get out of bed and pose for photos only when his sister Tara tells him Ray Rice is downstairs. (He isn’t.)

Though O’Malley, a Baltimore City District Court judge, was hesitant when first invited to be Style’s fashion model, she’s now game for the adventure. Sitting in the makeup chair, the mother of four (Grace, 22; Tara, 21; William, 15; and Jack, 10) seems happy for the chance to relax and do nothing for a few hours—a rare thing in her hectic life.

STYLE: Did you have any idea that putting on makeup could take so long?

O’MALLEY: No! The only person who has ever done my makeup is Tara. And on weekday mornings I only have about 45 minutes total to get out the door. I just do foundation, eyeliner and lipstick and then I’m running out.

For the early morning commute up to Baltimore?
I leave at 6:45 a.m. and get William to school by 7:45 a.m. I listen to WRNR on the way ... and usually William and I have a fight about the temperature in the car or how my seat is too far back. After I drop him off at high school, I get Starbucks and take it to my parents in Homeland so we can visit for an hour before I have to be at the courthouse.

What is your father [former state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.] up to these days? My dad is working full time for the Injured Workers Insurance Fund in Towson. My mom is an artist and she’s got a great studio in their house.

What’s your workday like? My jurisdiction is civil disputes that are $30,000 and under, and criminal misdemeanors. I also do bail review for felonies and preliminary hearings. Right now I’m in drug treatment court, so I’m structuring drug treatment programs for nonviolent offenders. The last thing you need to do is put addicts in prison—you want to tailor treatment to their individual needs.

We hear you’re a spin fanatic during your lunch hour. Three out of the five days I take a spin class, but I also do body pump and kickboxing.

Are you home in time for dinner most nights? William and I get home about 6. If Martin and I are not involved in an evening event, we eat downstairs in the kitchen where the state troopers [the security staff] eat. We try to all eat together, but Jack has sports and William has a part-time job, so we have to be flexible. The house has three different chefs and they’re all good. I’m a vegetarian, though I do eat seafood. I generally try not to eat a lot!

Do you miss cooking your own meals? It’s a little intimidating to cook here because the stove and ovens are so large. So I microwave. I say, ‘Look, kids, mommy’s cooking!’

Does Government House feel like home? Over the six years we’ve been here it definitely feels more like home. We have some of our own furniture in the private wing, which has a living room, dining room, office and family room. I have my mother’s paintings hung up there. I’ve definitely gotten used to the space, but at first I was always getting lost!

I see the trampoline out in the yard. Does it get a lot of use? It did yesterday. I had written a letter to Noah, the boy in Howard County whose mother asked people on Facebook to write and support her son, who was being bullied and threatened suicide. Fortunately, his mother had a great idea. Anyway, I invited him to come, and we spent the afternoon together yesterday. I think the kids were on the trampoline for four hours!

Bullying is an issue that’s near and dear to you. Yes. And I’m trying to reach out to not just victims but kids that can be what we call ‘upstanders’ and speak out against bullying. When I talk at schools, that’s the message I give. The White House has an anti-bullying conference every year—it’s wonderful. This year they invited me to speak.

I understand you’re part of a truancy court program, too. Every Thursday morning before court starts, I go to Margaret Brent
Elementary Middle School [in Charles Village] and sit down with students, guidance counselors, the principal and parents to talk about why a student isn’t coming to school. Some of the reasons are related to bullying. Every week it’s some of the same kids. Some of the stories are really sad, but you do get to build a rapport with the kids.

What sort of traveling have you done as a first lady? I like traveling, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it often. I have kids so I’d rather be home. I did accompany Martin on a trip to India, where I met with lawyers and judges, similar to the four trips I’ve made to Russia as part of the Russian American Rule of Law Consortium. I really enjoyed hearing lawyers and judges in Russia talk about their work. But now with the strained relations in Russia, we’re not going to be able to go back.

When you moved here, was it strange at first having security people with you at all times? I’m not real security nutty. Sometimes I drive myself places. And if I’m just walking downtown to do an errand or go for a walk at the Naval Academy, I go by myself. But the security team is great. Jack is a huge Ravens fan and he was tormenting one of the troopers who was not a Ravens fan. For a joke, they tied him up in the trooper office and put a sock in his mouth.

You ask the troopers not to call you first lady, right? We had a dog named Lady, and so I feel a little like a dog when people call me that! During the first term, I asked them to call me Katie but they wouldn’t, though one agreed to call me Judge. When Martin got elected for a second term, I said, ‘Please call me Katie. And if you don’t, I’m going to charge you a quarter each time you say, ‘first lady.’”

Maybe they’re not used to such a down-to-earth gal in Government House. I hear you’re a great bargain shopper. I am a bargain shopper. My daughters shop quality. I buy my makeup at CVS and they buy theirs at Nordstrom. I go to Old Navy and buy yoga pants while they go to Lululemon. But if I’m going to make a big fashion purchase I definitely want their opinion.

Have you always loved fashion? Yes. I had a great kimono-style black Yves Saint Laurent coat that my mother bought me. I wish I still had it. I wore Diane von Furstenberg dresses—they were my favorite. Now that they’re back, I’ll go online and buy them on sale. I have three.

Forgive me if this is prying, but what do you wear under your black judge’s gown? I usually just wear simple black pants and a shirt—very rarely a suit. There’s some freedom in that, especially since I have so little time in the morning.

Do you have to dress more conservatively as a first lady than you used to? I’ve never been a racy dresser. Having daughters helps me. If I walk downstairs and look ridiculous, they won’t let me go out.

What have you worn on your visits to the White House? For my first visit after the Obamas were elected, I wore a long navy blue gown from Loehmann’s. It was $40. I wore vintage earrings from my mother, which Arnold Schwarzenegger complimented me on.

How often have you visited? A couple of times. They have a nice St. Patrick’s Day party that Martin’s band played last year. This year, my mother-in-law and Grace went to the party. I don’t want Michelle [Obama] to think I’m copying her bangs!

I understand you were seated next to her husband at the last Governors’ Dinner. I got my table number and went to find my seat and then I looked at the place card next to me and it said, The President. I had been hoping for the vice president. He’s so nice and so easy to talk to. I was like, ‘Oh!’ I tried to be cool and roll with it. But apparently I looked like I was having a heart attack because this year they’re going to warn the people seated next to the president in advance!

Can you imagine yourself in the White House in four years? I don’t know where I see myself in four years. I’m so focused on the present—there’s hardly time to breathe. I’ve always been supportive of Martin’s professional choices. So, we shall have to see what the future holds.


May-June 2013

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