Lewis A. Lapham, a former president of Bankers Trust New York Corp., died Dec. 20 at his home after what his family described as a short illness. He was 86 years old.

Mr. Lapham entered banking in 1959 as chairman of the executive committee of Bankers Trust Co. He was president of the Bankers Trust Holding Co. from 1968 to 1974.

He also served as president of the New York State Bankers Association in 1970 and 1971 and president of the Association of Registered Bank Holding Companies, which later became part of the Bankers Roundtable, in 1972-73.

A Brooklyn-born graduate of Yale University, Mr. Lapham had a varied career, beginning in 1932 as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. In 1947 he became president of the American-Hawaiian Steamship Co. He was president of Grace Line Inc. from 1955 to 1959.

Among the survivors are his wife of 63 years, Jane A. Foster Lapham; his sons Anthony A. and Lewis H. Lapham, who is the editor of Harper's Magazine; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Jan. 6 at 11 a.m. at Round Hill Community Church.

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