Reference Biography: Walter O’Malley

By Brent Shyer

Entering the Business World

Using his education, O’Malley briefly started a drilling company with partner Thomas F. Riley, but soon thereafter he decided to launch his own surveying company, Walter F. O’Malley Engineering Co., while at the same time serving as a junior engineer for the city of New York Board of Transportation (“That paid $3019 a year,” O’Malley once recalled. “I always remember the odd numbers.”). Penelope McMillan, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979 His third income was as city surveyor. His own company was responsible for geological surveys and foundation test borings for New York’s Midtown Tunnel.

Walter O’Malley founded, edited and published “Sub-Contractors Register.” The 1937 edition is shown.

An expert in building codes, Walter O’Malley became President of the Society of Allied Building Trades.

After earning his law degree at Fordham on October 15, 1930, he began his career at the Lincoln Building located at 60 E. 42nd Street in New York City. O’Malley founded, published and was editor of “Sub-Contractors Register,” an important directory listing personnel and services for contractors, despite the fact that he listed his Uncle Joe O’Malley’s name as President in the published book. He quickly became President of the Society of Allied Building Trades, working on correcting troubles of labor. O’Malley also wrote an impressive and popular law guide to explain the New York City Building Code, initially selling 10,000 copies. Sidney Fields, 1956

His career off to a multifaceted start, O’Malley added a key partner to his law practice in Ray Wilson, who had significant associations with insurance and indemnity corporations.

It was in 1931 that O’Malley decided to tie the knot with his longtime sweetheart, Kay Hanson, literally marrying the girl next door. The charming Kay had overcome great adversity in her life. While Kay and Walter fell in love in their 20s, she had developed cancer of the larynx. Unfortunately, at the time, throat operations were very rare and doctors were experimenting to try and fix the problem. Although Kay had a “successful” operation in 1927, her voice box was permanently impaired, leaving her to speak with no more sound than a barely audible whisper for the remainder of her life. Those around her learned how to read her lips to communicate. That she would not be able to speak at a normal level did not matter to O’Malley. “She’s the same girl I fell in love with,” he told his father. Jim Murray, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979

The 1931 wedding announcement for Kay Hanson and Walter O’Malley.

The couple was united in marriage by Father Patrick Gallagher in New York City on September 5, 1931 in ceremonies at St. Malachy’s, known as The Actors’ Chapel, at 239 W. 49th St. in New York City. Newly-ordained Fr. Gallagher, who was performing his first wedding ceremony, might have been more nervous than the groom. The O’Malleys resided at Beekman Place, Manhattan. Kay had been told that having children would be a problem due to possible infertility aftereffects from her operation. Two years later, however, the first of the O’Malley’s two children, Therese (Terry) Ann, was born in New York City. The family moved to St. Marks Avenue in Brooklyn, relocating just a block from Judge Hanson’s home. In 1937, son Peter was born in Brooklyn. Kay referred to both births as “miracles.”

Years later, Peter would follow in his father’s footsteps, while Terry, who appeared in an Ivory Soap baby ad in The Saturday Evening Post in 1934, 20 years later graduated from the College of New Rochelle, the same alma mater as her Mom and worked for the “Dodgertown Camp for Boys” in Vero Beach, FL beginning in the early 1950s. Terry and Peter affectionately referred to their parents as “Mom” and “Pop.”

Walter and Kay O’Malley with Kay’s parents, Peter and Elizabeth Hanson.

Walter and Kay O’Malley take a carriage ride on their honeymoon to Bermuda in 1931.

Walter and Kay O’Malley with their children, Peter and Terry, circa 1939.

Now, the well-fortified O’Malley entered the business world as a young lawyer, as he began his practice immediately after he was sworn in at Manhattan’s 1st Judicial Department on April 10, 1933.

“Times were very rough indeed,” said O’Malley. “A good many professional men were actually selling apples on the street corners of New York. Two of my very early law clients were relatives. That’s not a bad way to start. And they had invested in guaranteed mortgage certificates. But, when the Depression hit us, the companies that loaned the certificates were not able to keep up the payments to the bond and certificate holders. I got interested in seeing what could be done legally to protect the investment of the people who had these certificates. This resulted in a rather interesting law practice during those troublesome years.

“Because we were involved in all sorts of foreclosures, reorganizations, both under the state and federal laws, as I look back now, I think we really did a terrific job. We saved the equity for most of the certificate holders and that really started my law practice off very strongly, because at one time we had a great number of lawyers working on these various reorganizations and that momentum carried us on to a corporate type of law practice — business reorganizations, business mergers and financing. We wound up representing several of the leading banks and trust companies and a number of the larger industrial companies in the East. Our law firm had 18 lawyers in the second year of my practice.” Walter O’Malley interview on KFI Radio with host Loren Peterson, 1965

That’s where O’Malley’s important association with the Brooklyn Trust Company began. That company, whose president and powerful civic leader, George V. McLaughlin, the former Brooklyn police commissioner, had to ensure the bank that Dodger ownership was not defaulting on its payments.