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Arthur Thomas, professionally known as "Sailor" Art Thomas, died Thursday, March 20, 2003 in Fitchburg, Wisconsin at the Don & Marilyn Anderson Hospice center.  The former bodybuilder, who wrestled all over North America and Japan during a nearly 30-year career on the mat, was claimed by cancer, first diagnosed only a month before his death.

Born January 30, 1924 in Gurdon, Arkansas, the son of Alfred and Jessie (Lunnon) Thomas.  Moved to Wisconsin as a young boy, and wound up in a Sparta orphanage after his mother died.  Thomas ended
up calling Madison, Wisconsin his home, off-and-on, for the next four decades.

One of his seven children, Rita Adair, remembers him "as a humble, traditional, religious man with the patience of a saint. He never spanked us. He made sure we saw him get down on his knees and pray every night before he went to bed."

After Merchant Marine service, he was employed by Greyhound Bus Lines and began a lifetime passion with bodybuilding. He and two other weightlifters, Bud Fuller and Rusty Moran, toured the country with carnivals. Madison promoter Jimmy Demetral then began using Thomas on house shows and a ring star was born. One web site devoted to pro wrestling offers this description of Thomas: "One of only a handful of big name black stars in pro wrestling from the '50s through the early '70s. Known for his crushing power, foes feared his bearhug, which usually spelled defeat." In fact, Thomas was a headliner well into his 50s and worked until the early 1980s, even while working for Oscar Mayer back in Madison, where he had returned after tiring of life on the road.

He is survived by sisters, Mary Caire and Christine Davis; his seven children, Raven (Bob) Fox, Paula (George) Pillow, Lisa Dyer, Rita Adair, Arthur (Karen) Thomas Jr., Valerie (Richard) Vincent and Ronald Thomas; ex-wife, Juanita Humphrey; 14 grandchildren; 11 great-grand children; four nieces, Dolores Gavin, Corinne Caire, Marie "Patsy" Thomas, and Gretchen Caire; two nephews, Frank Thomas, Jr., and Ellihue Davis, Jr.; 18 great-nieces and great-nephews; his life-long friend, Boyce Williams; his caretaker, Georgia Morning; close family friend, Tina Virgil; and his many friends he had throughout his life and the attendants from Home Healthcare and Independent Living. He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers, Frank and Bennie Ray; sister, Annie Laura; nephews, Howard and Joe Thomas; and infant daughter, Leanne. The family would like to acknowledge the excellent care, support and comfort provided by the HospiceCare Facility, especially Mary Lee, Jennifer, Susie R., Kelly, MaryAnn, Susie P., Mary Kay, Wendy, Kris S., Pastor Bob and Pastor Jerry. Private burial at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison was scheduled after services at Faith Community Christian Church, also in Madison.

Memorials can be made to HospiceCare, Inc., 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway, Madison, WI 53711.