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The Kind of Man He Was
The baseball star known as "Parson" Lewis, who became a college president known as "the Pitching Professor," was Grandpa Lewis to Peg Van Allen '57

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Ted Lewis and Peg Van Allen

When Peg Hoitt Van Allen '57 was born on May 19, 1935, it caused quite a stir in the big brick house at 105 Main Street in Durham. Ted Lewis, already grandfather to two boys, had let it be known that he was dying to have a granddaughter. When word came that the baby, a girl, had been born and named Margaret, after her grandmother, the president of UNH ran up and down the sidewalk along Main Street in front of his house—in his pajamas—shouting, "It's a girl! It's a girl!"

"That's the kind of man he was," says Van Allen. "There was nothing stuffy about him, and he had a wicked sense of humor."

Although Lewis died of cancer at the age of 63 when Van Allen was a year old, she speaks as if she knew him, and with good reason. Lewis is remembered for having had not one but two illustrious careers, first as a major-league baseball pitcher and then as a professor and president of two universities. He was close friends with both baseball legend Cy Young and poet Robert Frost. And he was viewed as a colorful figure in both arenas. In baseball, he was known as Parson Lewis, thanks to his refusal to play ball on Sundays. In academia, he was called the Pitching Professor.

As a result, the life of Edward Morgan Lewis has been well documented in both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the halls of academia. It was also documented by his family, and Van Allen has photos dating back to the 1800s as well as an informal biography of her grandfather, written by her uncle, John Lewis, in the sometimes-flowery prose of another era. These mementos, plus the family stories she heard growing up, have given her even more cause to admire the grandfather she never knew.

It's become a cliché to describe a life story as something out of Horatio Alger, but Lewis actually read Alger's rags-to-riches stories—far into the night, by lamplight. His own story begins in Machynlleth, Wales, where he was born on Christmas day in 1872, and from which his whole family fled eight years later, under cover of darkness, to escape their creditors. (Van Allen is particularly proud that her grandfather eventually returned to Wales to pay back "every single penny" of his father's debts.)

Ted Lewis and Peg Van Allen

The Lewises, more or less destitute, crossed the ocean in an old steamship and then headed toward Iowa by train to join some relatives, who had given them just enough money to get there. When Ted's father took ill, the family was forced to disembark in Utica, N.Y., where they settled into a large Welsh community. Ted and his three sisters worked hard to learn English; their parents spoke Welsh till the end of their days, says Van Allen.

A Welsh church in Utica provided the family with a "modest home, close to the New York Central Railroad tracks," writes John Lewis, "and for several winters they braved icy winds and snow, gathering pieces of coal dropped by passing trains, just for the luxury of heat." Young Ted also peddled coal from a little wagon that he pulled around town, later working at a grocery store to help support the family and pay his father's debts.

It was in high school that Lewis read a bundle of inspirational books, including some Horatio Alger stories, given to him by a kindly school superintendent. An article in the local Welsh newspaper gave him the idea of applying to a college in Ohio where, he had read, a poor boy might work to pay for his own education. In 1891, he enrolled in a prefreshman course at Marietta College and worked as a hotel night clerk, janitor and letter carrier over the next two years.

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