The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

Michael Lefkow liked hats, which made him look taller, and he liked the snap of a starched white shirt. In his bedroom trunk, he kept a red cummerbund for flamenco dancing. When his daughters were young, his clothes sometimes made them groan. The Brooks Brothers suit he wore on a school field trip when the other parents wore jeans and khakis. The knee-high socks and little purple shorts he sported when he jogged.

He enjoyed clothes so much that before he was killed in February, he'd already bought a tux for his daughter Helena's September wedding.

Joan Humphrey met Michael Lefkow on Good Friday in 1965 in the Wheaton College library. She was a Wheaton senior, and he was a Northwestern Law School student who came to Wheaton to study. It was quiet there, unlike the nearby bungalow where, as the third of seven children, he'd lived with his family and a grandmother since his father died.

Wheaton students were supposed to be in chapel that afternoon. Anyone who stayed in the library was locked in. Joan Humphrey stayed, and introduced herself to one of the other inmates.

"He was intriguing looking," she recalls. "His grandfather was a Slavic Jew, a lawyer who knew seven languages."

That impressed the Baptist girl from the Kansas farm and the one-room schoolhouse.

When she arrived at Wheaton, a Christian college in Chicago's suburbs, Joan Humphrey was a shy, diligent, conservative 17-year-old who'd been so upset by Richard Nixon's 1960 presidential defeat that she helped make badges afterward that said, "We want a recount."

By edict of her church and family, she wasn't allowed to dance, so when she showed up for the occasional high school shindig, she sat on the sidelines. Movies were forbidden too, and though she sneaked off to "Elmer Gantry" at the drive-in and even lied to her mother so she could see "Summer Place" at the local theater, she wrote a paper in her first college semester denouncing movies as un-Christian.

The professor gave her a C.

"I was just spitting out dogma," she says now. "That was my first lesson in thinking for myself."

College was a constant test. Joan Humphrey had graduated second in her high school class of 47 students. At Wheaton, she struggled.

As a girl, she'd visited Denver, gone to the eye doctor in Kansas City and been as far as Arkansas to Bible camp. But college in the outskirts of Chicago was lonely in a way different from the loneliness of the small town and the farm.

She spent her first two years depressed--depression ran in the family--then, slowly, found herself liberated and liberalized.

"By the time I left college," she says, "I was divorced from the evangelicals."

Into her evolution walked Michael Lefkow. He was barely her height--5-foot-6--but he brimmed with personality, curiosity, generosity and ideas, big liberal ideas. He'd been to Spain.

"Want to go out for a beer?" he said one day when he cruised by her house in the cab he drove to pay for school.

She didn't drink. She said, "Maybe a Coke?"

That summer, on their first serious date, they went to see Federico Fellini's "Juliet of the Spirits." Michael laughed at the pretension of the allegedly great work of cinema. His contrariness irked some people, but Joan Humphrey grew to admire it.

"I'm always the one worried about how other people perceive me," she says. "He was always his own person."

Their courtship lasted for 10 years, complicated then and long afterward by the fact that Michael had fathered a child with another woman. Decades later, the fact that the other woman happened to be African-American would complicate their lives in a different way.