In the memoir, Halpern describes having a similar experience the first time she visited the Harvard Law School campus. She and her tour guides (who didn't realize that they were escorting the great man's daughter) happened to cut through the Lewis Center. The two young men began regaling their companion with stories about the building's remarkable donor.

Halpern told herself, "They know him, but they don't know you. Nobody knows who you are."

She writes: "I still remember how powerless I felt. I had failed, again."

By all accounts, Lewis adored his daughters. He went out of his way to support their interests (Halpern remembers a $10,000 donation to the public library where she habitually buried herself in books).

Cooper says that every time Christina or Leslie walked into the room, her nephew's face would light up from forehead to chin.

Wiley estimates that the girls' father worked at least 90 hours a week, though she says that Lewis made a concerted effort to spend more time with his family during the five years that they lived in Paris.

Though he spent six months of every year in New York, when Lewis was in France, he made it a point to come home every night for family dinners. These dinners were entertaining and educational, featuring mock trials and trivia questions, and they lasted for hours.

As Wiley puts it: "He gave his daughters everything. Work came first for him, really. But they were right up there."

It was in Lewis' nature to be intense, charismatic, exacting and, by his own account, mercurial. He determined the emotional weather in the house, and as a result, he wasn't always easy to live with.

"When he was happy, his laughter was large and infectious," Halpern writes.

"It would spread contagiously and everyone was happy with him. When he wasn't, everyone walked on eggshells. And when he was angry, I wanted to die."

Among his employees and business associates, Lewis' temper was legendary. At times, Loida Lewis says, her husband couldn't shake his bad mood upon leaving work, and blew up at home.

"He yelled and he cursed, and sometimes the girls didn't understand," she says.

"When he burst out, they thought he was being abusive. They didn't realize that as a black man in corporate America, he was slaying dragons every day. He had to vent, and where else could he do it? When it was over, it was over. I realized I couldn't take it personally."

Halpern's father might not have been perfect, but father and daughter loved one another deeply, and the Lewis women are made of stern stuff. Two recent developments have helped her lay claim to her heritage: writing the memoir and the birth of her first child.

Halpern wanted the baby, now 3 months old, to be strengthened by his family background without being burdened by unwieldy expectations. After thinking long and hard, she and her husband were inspired to name their son Calvin after a favorite writer, Calvin Trillin.

"She wants the baby to be his own person," Loida Lewis says.

"But when I heard my grandson's full name, I was surprised and very pleased. They're calling him Calvin Reginald Lewis Halpern."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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