By Harry Keaney
In the latter 1500s in Ireland, it was one of the O’Malley’s women, Grace O’Malley, who proudly defended the Mayo clan’s honor and fortune. The O’Malleys are still a force in Mayo but in the U.S., another O’Malley woman could well be their modern day standard bearer. She’s Sheila O’Malley, president of Rockfleet Media, a New York-based company that takes its name from the area near Clew Bay, in Mayo, where Grace O’Malley’s castle was located.
“I think her presence, or her chutzpa, is what I would admire,” Sheila O’Malley said of her trailblazing family namesake. “She didn’t let too many obstacles get in her way.”
Today, in the Irish-American community, Sheila O’Malley is perhaps best known for her work with the American Ireland Fund. But that is just one facet of O’Malley’s multilayered life.
As president of Rockfleet Media, she oversees two New Jersey newspapers. Tri-Town News, a 35,000 circulation weekly, covers Howell, Lakewood, Jackson and Plumsted. The Coastal Leader-Review, a 23,000 circulation weekly, covers the area from Point Pleasant to Seaside Heights to Brick Township.
Rockfleet Media’s stable also includes The Shore, a free magazine-format publication, with a distribution of about 50,000 thousand, published every two weeks during the summer, mainly for visitors to the Jersey shore area.
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Rockfleet Media was established about four years ago by O’Malley and her husband, R. Joseph Fuchs, who is chairman. Subsequently, they set up Rockfleet Broadcasting for the purpose of acquiring small to mid-market underperforming television stations. Its holdings include the ABC affiliate WVII in Bangor, Maine, and the NBC affiliate WJFW in Wausau, Wis. Rockfleet Broadcasting also has an interest in the Fox station KXRM in Colorado Springs.
Before they were married, O’Malley and Fuchs were business partners. Their relationship explains why O’Malley now finds herself heading a growing media business. Her husband, a former managing director with the Wall Street firm Kidder, Peabody & Co., was, for years, one of the country’s leading media analysts.
Outside Rockfleet, O’Malley’s main interest is the AIF, the executive committee of which she is a member.
Through its generation and disbursement of grants, the AIF is an active promoter of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. This year alone it will raise $11 million.
O’Malley said her initial interest in the AIF was its work in Belfast. O’Malley herself has a close connection to Belfast; her mother, Nora O’Toole, was born there. She and Francis Samuel O’Malley left in 1921 for Canada, eventually settling in Cleveland, where Sheila, one of three girls, grew up. Her mother, who had an employment agency, started one of the first temporary help agencies and was president of the National Personnel Association.
After boarding school, Sheila’s first job, in Boston, was as secretary to F. Lee Bailey, the criminal defense lawyer. While in her early 20s, she came to New York to work with Estee Lauder. After three years, she moved to Revlon, where she became vice president of product development.
For 12 years, O’Malley was on the board of the American Ballet Theatre. “Dance was a big part of my life, I studied dance for many years, and I love classical ballet,” she said.
She has also served on the academic committee of Stonehill College, in Easton, Mass. Next month, in New York, O’Malley will be one of two guests of honor at the Flax Trust-America ball in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Outside the U.S., O’Malley is on the board of directors of Ashford Castle Hotel, in County Mayo, which is owned by about 40 to 50 investors. “Ashford Castle Hotel is having the finest year it ever had, with record occupancy levels, under the leadership of Rory Murphy, the general manager,” she said. And, she pointed out that for three years, the castle hotel has won the Egon Ronay hotel of the year award.
Despite her hectic life, O’Malley said parenting is the primary focus of her life; she has two children, Michael, 17, and Maura, 14, as well as step children, one of whom, Robert, 26, is publication manager for Rockfleet’s newspapers.
All told, one suspects Grace O’Malley would be proud of Sheila O’Malley and, not least, her ample chutzpa.