Appreciation: Annette O’Malley cultivated Dodgers’ family atmosphere

Peter O’Malley was charmed by the woman visiting from Denmark. He invited her to the Hollywood Bowl, where he looked forward to introducing her to friends with whom he enjoyed concerts.

“That’s when I realized, ‘Whoops, I didn’t get her last name,’” O’Malley said.

He was not about to let a detail like that spoil his date.

“You remember Annette,” O’Malley said to each of his friends, none of whom had met her.

Within a year, her last name was O’Malley. After 52 years of marriage, Annette O’Malley died last week. She was 81, and the family said she died “after a long-standing lung disease.”

Annette and Peter O'Malley attend the L.A. premiere of the movie "42" on April 9, 2013.

Annette and Peter O’Malley attend the L.A. premiere of the movie “42” on April 9, 2013.

(Eric Charbonneau / Invision for Warner Bros. / Associated Press)

Peter and Annette O’Malley met in 1970, the first year Peter replaced his father as president of the Dodgers. The O’Malley family owned the team until 1998.

“It was an honor to know Annette for more than 50 years,” former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire said. “Annette’s warm and caring personality won the respect of all of us in the Dodgers organization during the O’Malley era.”

Annette Zacho was born in Roskilde, Denmark, on Feb. 1, 1942. Her interests were in the arts, not in sports. She was working as a costume designer at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen when she visited Los Angeles, to see whether she might be able to break into Hollywood, and she met O’Malley at a dinner party hosted by Danish opera star Lauritz Melchior.

Zubin Mehta, conductor emeritus of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said Annette O’Malley emerged as a key player in the cultural fabric of Los Angeles. Dorothy Buffum Chandler, the wife of former Los Angeles Times publisher Norman Chandler, recruited Annette O’Malley to the Amazing Blue Ribbon 400, a major support group for the Music Center.

The O’Malleys enjoyed Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in concert, and Mehta said he enjoyed Dodgers games with the O’Malleys — and with actor Danny Kaye, who once wrote and performed a song called “D-O-D-G-E-R-S (Oh, really? No, O’Malley!).”

Said Mehta: “Annette, coming from a completely different culture, I think it was so admirable how she changed her whole approach to Peter’s world. She was there every night at the games.”

On her first visit to Dodger Stadium, Peter O’Malley said Annette was amazed by how clean the ballpark was.

“In those days, the stadiums in Europe were kind of dingy,” he said.

The O’Malleys wed in 1971, and her baseball education started in earnest the following spring, at the Dodgers’ legendary spring home in Vero Beach, Fla. One of the interns who would bring drinks to the O’Malleys and their guests at Holman Stadium was Derrick Hall, now president of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“It was always Annette who greeted me with a thank you, and by name,” Hall said. “It was shocking to me that the owner’s wife would know who an intern was, but that was who she was.”

The O’Malley family long believed in growing the sport internationally, and Annette joined Peter on journeys to Asia and Latin America — sometimes on tours with the Dodgers, sometimes not.

In 1984, two months after Peter O’Malley and Dodger Stadium hosted the first Olympic baseball games in 16 years — he underwrote them — Annette O’Malley threw out the ceremonial first pitch of Game 7 of the championship series of the top Korean league.

“It was critical for him to create relationships across the globe,” Hall said, “but a big reason that he was able to do so was because of her.”

The O’Malleys prided themselves on a family atmosphere. Indeed, Peter O’Malley has said one reason his family sold the Dodgers to Fox was that, amid the explosion of player salaries via free agency, a family would struggle to match the wealth of a corporation. In retrospect, there is something wistful about this sentence from a 1991 Times profile of Peter O’Malley: “Some in the organization say the demand for ever-greater revenue means changes at Dodger Stadium: luxury boxes, perhaps, or advertising on the outfield walls.”

That atmosphere may be a memory now, but Annette O’Malley gets much of the credit, particularly for Dodgertown springs highlighted by poolside barbecues, carnival games and Christmas-in-March celebrations for Dodger families.

“She made everyone feel like they were part of the family, which was important to Peter,” Hall said. “If you worked for the Dodgers, be it in the minor leagues or on Elysian Park Avenue, you were part of the O’Malley family. I would give her as much credit as I would give Peter.”

Said Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ retired Hall of Fame announcer: “Really, I don’t have enough words to tell you how sweet she was.”

In addition to her husband, Annette O’Malley is survived by her sister, three children and eight grandchildren. Funeral services were private.