‘Oh Baby!’
Written by Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer   
July 25, 2009 05:00 am

Brookings resident Joan O’Leary, 81, reads the weekly gossip magazine National Enquirer and is not afraid to admit it.

In fact, she wants everyone in town to pick up next week’s issue and look at page 53. That’s where a photo of her cute 6-month-old great-grandson Cormac O’Brien is featured – the winner of that issue’s “Oh Baby!” photo contest.

“I’ve never done something like this before; I’m so excited!” Joan said.

The winning photo is published below, and what a photo it is. No wonder it was chosen. In fact, it’s quite a feat. The National Enquirer receives thousands of submitted photos every year, according to magazine editorial assistant Betty Ann Ruotolo.

“We have one person who goes through all of them, looking for that certain smile, look on the face or the way a pictures hits you,” Ruotolo said.

The magazine has published the “Oh Baby” contest section for more than 15 years, she said. Winners received $50 and boasting rights that come with their baby’s mug seen by millions of readers in America. Joan has mailed the check to Cormac’s parents, Shawn and Kenna O’Brien, who live in Santa Maria, Calif.

So why the National Enquirer, a magazine ridiculed by many?

“I’m a fan; I admit it,” Joan said, and then offered a weak defense, “A friend of mine gave me a subscription several years ago.”

Joan lives alone in Brookings since her husband died in 1999, but her family, she said, makes an effort to keep in touch.

“They are always sending me photos of Cormac,” she said of Shawn and Kenna. “One day I just decided to send a few to the magazine. Just for fun.”

The photos of Cormac were taken in June, when he was four months old. The challenge, Joan said, was deciding which four snapshots to send to the magazine. “They’re all so different, but all so cute!”

Cormac’s parents didn’t know their child’s photos had been sent to the National Enquirer let alone selected for “Oh Baby!” until Joan’s daughter shared the news.

“My granddaughter got a big kick out of it,” Joan said. “Every mother, grandmother and even great-grandmother likes to hear that their baby is really cute.”

Upon hearing Cormac had been selected, Joan called the Curry Coastal Pilot. It’s not the first time she’s contacted the newspaper regarding family events. She has submitted announcements for family births, weddings and anniversaries.

“I love this paper,” Joan said. “And it’s so much fun to see my family on the pages.”

Joan, who spent the first 33 years of her life in Brooklyn, New York, moved with her husband from New Jersey to Brookings in 1984. Joan kept busy as a member of the Brookings Emblem Club for many years, but now focuses on helping out at Star of the Sea Catholic Church.

“I help with Bingo and in the kitchen,” Joan said. “I can’t do as much as I used to, but I help out where I can.”

As far as her great-grandson’s brush with fame, she said, “It’s my heart’s delight, I never thought I’d see the day.”

And the photos of Cormac keep coming.

“In the mail today I received more photos from my family,” she said Thursday. “It’s nice to know that my family cares so much for me.”