NEW YORK — He was a postmaster-inventor-diplomat-founding father, just another American revolutionary. She was two centuries younger, but plenty worldly, as well, with a blend of verve and pragmatism that had helped her escape Nazi-occupied Belgium by taxicab.
Their first meetings were hardly memorable.
‘‘I must admit that your words of wisdom left me cold,’’ Claude-Anne Lopez would write many years later. ‘‘But I had no choice: It was your papers or nothing.’’
It was academia in the 1950s, and she was a woman in a man’s world. She took what she could get: a job transcribing 30,000 documents that constitute the papers of Benjamin Franklin at Yale University. She started as a transcriber at 65 cents an hour. She would become an authority and admirer.
Over the next few decades, Mrs. Lopez, who died Dec. 28 at her home in New Haven at 92, would rise to become editor in chief of the collection and a formidable expert on Franklin. She published several well- regarded books, carving a niche for herself by revealing personal dimensions of Franklin that other scholars had missed.
Her first book, ‘‘Mon Cher Papa: Franklin and the Ladies of Paris,’’ was published in 1966 to rave reviews. J.H. Plumb, writing in The New York Review of Books, called it ‘‘a book of exceptional perception: scholarly, tender, full of style.’’
“The Private Franklin,’’ which she wrote with Eugenia W. Herbert, examined his difficult relationship with his wife, Deborah, whom he often did not see for years. In 2000, Mrs. Lopez wrote ‘‘My Life With Benjamin Franklin,’’ a memoir in which she described how Franklin became her unlikely ‘‘passport to America’’ (and in which she confessed to him her initial lack of interest).
Mrs. Lopez’s family, who were Jewish, fled Belgium in the late 1930s. Her father had died several years earlier. She, her mother, her nanny, and the family’s beloved Brittany spaniel made their way into France by taking a series of taxicabs.
Mrs. Lopez, who studied classics at the University of Belgium, eventually made her way to the United States from Spain with other Jewish refugees on the infamous 1941 voyage of the Spanish freighter Navemar, in which several died of typhus.
She did graduate work at Columbia, where she met her future husband, Robert Sabatino Lopez, a specialist in medieval and Renaissance history.
Mrs. Lopez leaves two sons, Larry and Michael, and a granddaughter. Robert Lopez died in 1986.
When her husband received a job Yale, Mrs. Lopez, who had written scripts and done editing for the Office of War Information, sought a role for herself. Working as a transcriber of papers written in French and other languages, she took note of the personal details and intimacy in some of Franklin’s letters and eventually decided that she might be able to shed new light on the man. Her focus proved fruitful beyond books.
She lectured frequently on the subject, appeared in several documentaries, and consulted with actors portraying Franklin. It helped that Franklin had a remarkably colorful life, including a reputation for promiscuity into old age.
Mrs. Lopez said in an interview with The Yale Bulletin in 2000 that she believed people were interested in Franklin’s romantic life because ‘‘it makes him more human, closer to the rest of us.’’