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A Piece of History – Designing the Brown Bomber’s Memorial

Designing a Memorial for the Brown Bomber, copy of the original article by Bob Thomas

We recently made an amazing discovery that we would like to share with all of you. In the process of having the offices here at Columbia Gardens Memorials repainted, our amazing staff stumbled on a piece of our monument company’s history. We discovered an old newspaper article written by Robert (Bob) Thomas, owner of Columbia Gardens Memorials. The article is about his father Ned Thomas, designing and donating a custom memorial for the infamous Joe Louis, or The Brown Bomber, as many of you boxing fans may remember him. At the time this article was written Bob’s father Ned, was the owner of Columbia Gardens Cemetery and he had the great privilege of working with Mrs. Louis on the design of the monument.

Designing a Memorial for the Brown Bomber, copy of the original article by Bob Thomas
The original newspaper clipping of “Designing a Memorial for the Brown Bomber” by Bob Thomas

We have re-typed the article below, to make it easier to read:


By Bob Thomas
Columbia Gardens Memorials
Arlington, Va.

In this corner, the heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis . . . Louis . . . Louis . . . “A familiar sound, indeed, to those fortunate enough to remember hearing the ring announcer introduce Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” during his reign of the ring from 1937-1949.

When the conversation turned to boxing, my father, Ned Thomas, would always recall how he and his brothers would scramble around the radio to listen to Louis fight. The name “Louis” being repeated by the announcer impressed him.

Therefore, when he learned that Louis was to be buried in Arlington Nation Cemetery by special order of President Reagan, his first thought was to offer to donate a proper memorial to the Brown Bomber and his family.

After contacting Mrs. Louis and meeting with her, my father had a working sketch of the desired memorial.

John MacArthur, a Law Vegas sculptor, was selected to create a bronze bas relief plaque of the fighter in his boxing pose. The plaque would then be placed in a recessed panel on the stone.

Mrs. Louis and my father agreed a brown granite would be appropriate. A carnelian granite from Wisconsin was then selected.

Rather than overburden he memorial with lists of Louis’ achievements, it was decided that a large stone with a simple inscription “The Brown Bomber – Heavyweight Champion of the World – 1937-1949” would be adequate.

Mrs. Louis preferred “Louis” to be inscribed on the panel above the plaque instead of the fighter’s real name, “Barrow.” On the front of the memorial, Louis’ name was inscribed with Barrow below that in parentheses. The dates were inscribed beneath Barrow.

The photo shows the bold memorial with the family name on the reverse side with e plaque. Such a sturdy looking stone is appropriate to such a legendary figure in American sports history.

After a few trips and numerous phone calls to Las Vegas and Wisconsin, the materials were assembled in Arlington to be set for the September dedication. The stone was unveiled in a ceremony among dignitaries and tourists. The Rev. Jesse Jackson presided.

For his time, effort and generosity in helping her select a memorial for her late husband, Mrs. Louis presented my father with the first of a limited edition of Joe Louis statues.

Columbia Gardens Memorials was proud to contribute this lasting memorial to a man whose effect on America will never be forgotten.

The front of the Joe Louis memorial monument in Arlington National Cemetery
(Front View) Joe Louis memorial monument

What a fascinating piece of monument history, right!? We thoughts so, and for the icing on the cake we also learned that Bob Thomas was a graduate of Washington & Lee University in Lexington Virginia, majoring in journalism. Which really explains that superbly written article.

Back of Joe Louis memorial monument in Arlington National Cemetery
(Back View) Joe Louis memorial monument

We sincerely hope you enjoyed this historical find as much as we did. As always if you have any questions or are looking to have a custom monument designed give us a call at: 703-527-7774, or if you are in the Greater Washington D.C. area please feel free to stop by and see us.


COVID-19 Update

We are continuing to practice social distancing and following CDC guidelines, to protect our community and staff. However, we are open and available to serve you. Todd and our engravers are back on premises working and we are accepting appointments during our normal operating hours. To schedule an appointment with us please call our office at (703) 527-7774 or email us at

Thank you for your understanding during this time. – The Columbia Gardens Memorials Staff