Winners and Losers

By Pete Ehrmann on October 3, 2015
Winners and Losers
“He had a real talent for drawing,” Barrow’s mother said. “Then the boxing took over.”

An old Spokane newspaper story says, “Barrow became a fighter because he neither knows how to do much else nor does he care to…”

Unlike the man who spectacularly ended his boxing career, it sounds like Terry Lewis had a blessed and fulfilling life after that.

In the late 1950s the 6’6” college football player had a brief nova as a heavyweight sensation in the Pacific Northwest; 16 of his first 17 wins were by KO. After journeyman Earl Atley flattened him in a round in ‘59, Lewis scored three more KOs before it ended for good when Kirk Barrow, outweighed by more than 50 pounds, took him out in four rounds in Spokane, Washington, on October 17, 1960.

Then Lewis worked in law enforcement and the insurance business and raised a family. He died on September 23 at age 79.

“Terry loved the outdoors and spent a majority of his free time hunting. An avid woodworker and master craftsman, Terry created furniture for family and friends,” says his death notice.

If he’s still alive — and I hope not — Kirk Barrow is 76. Twenty years ago, his stepmother, Josephine Helen Barrow, told me he was in a nursing home in California, suffering from brain damage incurred in the ring.

“He doesn’t recognize anybody,” she said. Not even his twin brother, Ken, who visited him regularly.

Barrow turned pro at 18 and in his first year won three fights, was stopped twice and had one draw. After opening 1959 with another loss, Barrow ran off nine straight wins. In his first Spokane main event he beat Earl Atley, and two months later the 21-year-old Barrow upset ranked light heavyweight Sixto Rodriquez and cracked the Top 10 in the 175-pound division.

But the big money was in the heavyweight class, and after knocking out Terry Lewis that’s where Barrow did most of his fighting. From 1961-’65, he beat Wayne Bethea, Jefferson Davis and a few other big guys on points, but lost to Pete Radamacher, Roger Rischer, Cleveland Williams and Karl Mildenberger.

Barrow (27-13-2) was through by age 26.

An old Spokane newspaper story says, “Barrow became a fighter because he neither knows how to do much else nor does he care to.”

His stepmother remembered it differently.

“When he was going to high school, he used to draw pictures,” she said. One she recalled was of baby birds in a nest, with a larger bird flying to them with a worm in its mouth.

“It looked like there was actual movement there,” she said. “He had a real talent for drawing. Of course, the boxing took over then.”

When his father died in 1985, Kirk — already institutionalized — was brought to Spokane for the funeral. Afterwards his stepmother gave him colored pencils, paper and other items artists use.

“He carried them away with him,” she said. “That’s the last time I saw him.”

After that, she heard about Kirk only through phone calls from his brother Ken.

“When he calls,” she said, “both of us cry over the phone.”

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  1. john uggen 08:29am, 11/17/2015

    Kirk Barrow’s trainer was Kaley Sonner.  Dolan worked with Kirk from time to time, but Kaley was his real trainer.  I was working as a bell hop and elevator operator in Spokane at the old Coeur d’Alene hotel when Lewis checked in to the hotel for the Barrow fight.  A few minutes later Kaley checked in Kirk and asked me to call him if Kirk tried to sneak out of the hotel. (Kirk was very popular with the ladies).  A few minutes later the elevator buzzed for the fifth floor and I went up and picked up Terry.  On the way down the third floor buzzer rang and I stopped and Kirk stepped into the elevator.  Kirk yelled at me and told me to get out of the elevator.  When I opened the door a minute or two later Kirk stepped out with a big smile on his face and Terry lay slumped over on the elevator floor.  Kirk won that fight in my elevator before he stepped into the ring and ko’d Terry,

    John Uggen, Inland Empire Golden Gloves 147 lb champion (novice) and former sparring partner of Toby Gibson, 1964 US Olympic team member

  2. c.h. 05:47pm, 10/03/2015

    Good story ! I knew Earl Atley, who was from Kennett Square Pa. He grew up working in the famous mushroom fields and later had a pig farm. He often spoke of when he was brought west to be a victim for Lewis. He said he went into a Philly shell crouch that confused Lewis and when he looked up Terry was wide open and he threw the hook with everything he had and flattened the red headed giant. Earl was brought back to fight Pat McMurtry to earn his career largest purse but was KO’d. Earl was a real nice guy, about 5’9” who also boxed Tom McNeely, Mike DeJohn, etc. and was a sparring partner for Sonny Liston. He later had a gym in Kennett Square and trained some decent boxers. He died a few years ago. A real upbeat gentleman and the trips to the Northwest were his best memories…..
    Sorry about the sad ending of Kirk Barrow’s life

  3. Bob 04:53pm, 10/03/2015

    Heartbreaking story. I had heard of the subjects but was not familiar with them. Looking forward to Baumgardner, Tillie Herman, Linson and others Bring them on!

  4. Clarence George 01:40pm, 10/03/2015

    You got me on Tillie Herman, Pete.  I was actually thinking of Cosby Linson.  But after Odell Polee, what’s the point?

  5. Pete 01:20pm, 10/03/2015

    Clarence, I could swear you were doing Baumgardner and I was down for Tillie Herman.

  6. oldschool 09:50am, 10/03/2015

    I remember reading about them in my youth. It appeared Terry Lewis was going to climb into the big time and then it all came crashing down. Thanks for the memories.

  7. Clarence George 08:33am, 10/03/2015

    I lost a bet with myself, Pete, thinking that your next article would be on Earl Baumgardner.

    Don’t know Terry Lewis or Kirk Barrow, but am glad to make their acquaintance through this quite lovely, dual tribute.  I gather from what you write that Barrow was only in his 40s when institutionalized.  “Dreadful” isn’t the word.  They don’t make that kind of word.

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