Chicago banker Alfred O’Malley, dead at 89, had role in financing ‘The Graduate’
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At 14, Al O’Malley’s severe asthma threatened his life. So, in an era before pocket inhalers and pharmaceutical advances, his parents made the tough decision to put him on a train from their home in Chicago to a boarding school in New Mexico, hoping the desert climate might help him survive to adulthood.
Young Al returned to the city after high school, but his asthma came back. So he headed west again, growing strong enough to play football for what would become Western New Mexico University.
According to his son Dennis, he had a memorable gridiron encounter there with a colossal rival named Dan Blocker, who went on to Hollywood fame as “Hoss” on TV’s “Bonanza.” “Dan Blocker ran into my father to block him and knocked him out cold,” Dennis O’Malley said.
To ease his homesickness, he focused on tennis, football and academics. “He really thrived out there,” said his daughter Debbie O’Malley-McKeown. “He was captain of the football team and editor of the [school] paper.”
Mr. O’Malley, a retired Chicago banker who for decades was chairman and chief executive officer of Standard Bank, died Monday at 89.
After learning his stomach cancer was inoperable, his kids surprised him at his retirement home in Bonita Springs, Florida, with one last pool party.
Then, they brought him and Trixie, his Shih Tzu, back to Beverly. They wanted him to be surrounded by family when he died — and so did Mr. O’Malley.
His early separation from his parents and siblings “gave him a very strong sense of family,” his daughter said, “because I think he missed them so much.”
His mother, the former Catherine Sheil, grew up in Swinford, County Mayo, Ireland. His father Michael, an engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad, was from Creggs, County Roscommon. His brother Michael O’Malley said their dad named his oldest son after Al Smith, who in 1928 — the year Mr. O’Malley was born — became the first Roman Catholic to run for U.S. president.
He attended St. Dorothy’s grade school, but, after he missed out on much of his first semester at Leo High School due to asthma, his parents sent him to St. Michael’s Boarding School in Santa Fe.
That’s where his lifelong love affair with Southwestern culture began. He grew to enjoy spicy food and developed an appreciation for turquoise and bolo ties.
His asthma ultimately abated. Back in Chicago after graduating from college in 1951, he spotted Pat Rosner, a fellow St. Dorothy’s alum, coming home from work and struck up a conversation. They were married in 1955.
“She learned to cook Mexican food — the spicier the better,” their daughter said, and was a vivacious hostess. “My father used to say she was his greatest business asset.”
Mr. O’Malley started his business career in the finance department at General Electric before going to work for what was then called Heritage Pullman Bank, where his son said he helped finance three Hollywood movies.
He risked the ire of the Catholic Legion of Decency and his Heritage Pullman bosses when he helped bankroll a 1967 movie that was considered racy at the time — “The Graduate.” When the creators of “The Graduate” were seeking funding, “My father got a copy of the script,” his daughter said, and had a feeling the Mike Nichols-directed film, starring a young Dustin Hoffman and capturing the anti-establishment zeitgeist of the 1960s, would succeed.
“He had a good read on the pulse of things that were changing,” his daughter said. “It turned into a phenomenon.”
That led the bank to invest in “The Lion in Winter,’’ a 1968 Oscar-winner starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn.
But the third movie the bank invested in was not the charm: He helped finance 1974’s “The Beast Must Die,” featuring horror-movie icon Peter Cushing and clunky declarations of “One of you is a werewolf!”
In the mid-1970s, Mr. O’Malley was named chairman and chief executive officer of Standard Bank. He helped it expand from one to 43 locations, according to a biography from his college. He retired in 2002.
“He was a legend,” said Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who said his law firm represented Standard Bank “for years and years.” “I think anybody who talked about banking on the South Side of Chicago would automatically think about Al O’Malley.”
Mr. O’Malley was a mentor to many, including Joe Bertrand, who would become a president of Highland Community Bank and the first African-American city treasurer, Burke said.
Mr. O’Malley was a 52-year member of the Beverly Country Club, where he took pride in its Evans scholars and was on the boards of Advocate Christ Hospital, St. Xavier University and Catholic Charities of Chicago.
He is also survived by daughters Patty, Kathy Broderick and Peggy Kelly, son Jaime, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His wife and son Danny died before him. Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at St. Barnabas Church, 10134 S. Longwood Dr., where a funeral Mass is planned at 10 a.m. Saturday. At his request, he will be buried wearing his college ring.