Beth McLeod Beth McLeod
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Beth McLeod is learning a difficult lesson: There is no playbook for what to do when your spouse dies suddenly. There is no script for how to handle the death of your mother just six weeks later. And there’s no tell-all account instructing you how to go on as a local television personality with tens of thousands of social media followers invested in your well-being.

Although she’s doing her best to move forward 13 months later, at times she’s still stunned about what happened. While sitting in the Crocker Park Starbucks in October, with her blond locks tucked tightly behind her left ear, she talks about how just the other day, while in Scottsdale, Arizona, she passed by a new location of Tomaso’s Italian Kitchen, which her husband used to love. And for a split second, she thought, I have to call him. 

But then the harsh reality sets in: Fred, her husband of 28 years, is gone. On Sept. 9, 2019, he had a heart attack shortly after leaving a nearby golf course.

As Beth talks through what happened, the large oval cut diamond on her wedding ring catches the light streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, while she mindlessly moves her manicured hands back and forth, smoothing down the frays on the rip near the knee of her black jeans.

At 67, Fred was a father of three, a grandfather of five and in good health. He exercised daily. He didn’t have high blood pressure and he never smoked. As the Cavaliers and Fox Sports Ohio play-by-play announcer, he was known for his work ethic. And as a Strongsville native, he endeared himself to Clevelanders with his creative catchphrases and on-air chemistry with color analyst Austin Carr. With Beth providing weekend weather updates on Fox 8 News, the two were a beloved, familiar power couple for Northeast Ohioans.

“You’re going down this path where your biggest concern was, what? Who’s going to pick up the dry cleaning?” says Beth. “And then all of a sudden your whole life is changed in one moment.”

Beth and Fred were each other’s biggest fans. They met in 1988 while Beth was in Los Angeles as a broadcast assistant for CBS Sports covering the NBA Finals and Fred was the Pistons play-by-play announcer.

“We just became friends for a while,” says Beth. “I think, looking back, if you marry your best friend, things are always going to be good.”

Beth can pinpoint the day she knew she’d fallen in love with Fred. They’d taken his daughter, Molly, to the park. She was maybe 3 at the time, wearing a bonnet to protect her still-bald head.

“Watching him interact with Molly and realizing what a great dad he was, I think that’s when I knew I fell for this guy,” she says. “It was just so endearing, and then you add the other two kids in — I just wanted to be part of the whole group.” 

Fred proposed at Christmastime in 1990, and the couple married the following September in Detroit at Cranbrook House & Gardens, with Fred’s kids, Sean, Jenna and Molly, in the wedding party.

“They truly did everything together,” says Molly, Fred’s youngest daughter, who is now 33.

Professionally, they rooted for each other from the sidelines every step of the way.

Beth was spending too much time on the road with CBS Sports and as a spokesperson for car companies, so she picked up a job drawing the lottery numbers at Detroit’s WDIV-TV and held that position for more than a decade, dabbling in traffic reports and other beats before the station moved her into weather.

When Fred got an unexpected call in 2006 from Dan Gilbert, one of his former broadcast interns who went on to become the owner of the Cavaliers, Fred jumped at the chance to become his hometown’s play-by-play announcer. Like any native son, he agonized over Cleveland’s lack of a professional sports championship and wanted to be a part of that journey. So, Fred and Beth bought a home in Bay Village, where Beth had lived as a child before her family moved to Michigan, while Beth continued to work in Detroit. For two years, she commuted between the two cities before taking a position at Channel 19 and later joining Fox 8 in 2018.

“Beth and Fred seemed to be always in concert with each other,” says Austin Carr, Fred’s broadcast boothmate. “She was definitely a partner to Fred.”

Beth was never late while Fred had no concept of time. He was studious while she was spontaneous and relaxed. They made every decision, big or small, together and decided early on that it didn’t matter where the Cavaliers were traveling or what else was going on in their lives, they were never going to be apart for more than a few days at a time. 

“If you want your relationship to succeed, you have to do that,” Beth says. 

Together, they reveled in the carnival that was a Cavaliers home game. Fred would attend the team’s morning practices and spend entire days studying prior to each game, and then they would arrive at the arena around 4:30 p.m. and stay through midnight. Beth attended most home games and as many road games as possible.

“They’re fun, they’re loud, they’re exhausting, especially when you’re winning night after night,” Beth says.

They were fixtures at events around town, emceeing fundraisers for nonprofits such as the Humane Society of Summit County. And when work divided them, they played the part of long-distance partners. Fred would watch and retweet Beth’s weather forecasts from whatever court he was reporting from, and she would consider his fashion advice before heading on-air — he was, after all, a fashion maven known for his collection of more than 300 ties.

“Freddy’s closet was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Dawn Hartman, a family friend. “An entire wall of the closet was floor-to-ceiling ties.”

Of them, Beth’s favorite remains a turquoise tie they bought together on the streets of Italy. As Beth tells the story, she laughs because Fred talked down the merchant, language barrier and all, from $20 per tie to three ties for $5. Later, he felt so bad for swindling the seller that he tried to return to buy more ties, but Fred couldn’t find him.

That memory reminds Beth of another, in which she gifted Fred a dream golfing trip to Ireland for Christmas in 2018. LeBron James had left Cleveland behind and all signs were pointing to the Cavs missing the playoffs after four straight Finals appearances. Fred thought it was a risky move to book the trip for May — what if the team made a run at the postseason and they were out all the expenses? But it was a bet Beth was willing to make for her partner.  

“I look back, and I’m so thankful he got to do that because it was something he had talked about his entire life,” she says. “You just take the risk.”

On Sept. 9, 2019, the weather was perfect in Cleveland: 70 degrees with mostly sunny skies. The Browns had just lost their season opener to the Tennessee Titans. The Tribe was a few weeks away from being eliminated from entering the playoffs, and there was a month and a half to go before the Cavaliers took the court.

Fred was commuting back and forth to do play-by-play for the Detroit Lions during their preseason and he was looking forward to his 14th season broadcasting with the Cavs. His dogged work ethic had him readying for a new basketball season as early as August and eventually spending as many as 20 hours studying for a single game. But on that day, when he was done working out, walking one of their dogs and mowing the lawn, Beth shooed him out of the house.

“I said, ‘You know, your season’s going to start up soon enough,’ ” Beth says. “ ’You’ve got to get out.’ ” 

So he agreed to play a round of golf at Red Tail Golf Club, just 8 miles away. He promised to be back home in time for dinner. 

Satisfied, Beth pulled out her Kitchen Aid stand mixer to make her husband’s favorite cake, Italian cream, in honor of their Sept. 6 wedding anniversary and his Sept. 1 birthday. They hadn’t yet celebrated either occasion because Beth worked both days and they wanted to wait until they had a day off together.

For dinner, she planned to grill chicken and make a Caesar salad — with yogurt-based dressing that coincided with their healthy eating habits. She planned to time everything just right, so it would be ready by the time he got home. 

But about an hour and a half later, Fred called Beth from his blue Porsche Boxter, the one she’d bought him as a gift. She thought maybe he was calling to say he got done golfing early, but that wasn’t it. He didn’t feel well. He’d packed up his golf bag, turned in his pull cart and left Red Tail with indigestion. 

Beth, thinking he might have eaten something disagreeable while she was at home preparing dinner and dessert, questioned him: “What did you eat?” 

Fred said he hadn’t eaten anything, and this heartburn felt different. He was driving himself to the Cleveland Clinic in Avon.

“And that’s where I freaked out,” says Beth. “Of course, I turn into a screaming wife, and I made him pull over and I called an ambulance.”

Once the ambulance arrived, Beth hung up the phone and talked herself down.

“I thought, OK, the ambulance is there. I’m sure I’m blowing this out of proportion,” she says.

Fred was in good health. There was no reason to panic. So, Beth returned to the tasks at hand. She turned off the grill. She pulled the cakes out of the oven, even though they were undercooked. And then she thought, Maybe I should go.

She got in her car to drive to the hospital, but then the doctors called her before she even arrived.

“And then it hit me,” Beth says.

Fred had pulled over into a church parking lot, but by the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late. He died in his car from a heart attack despite being an otherwise healthy 67-year-old man.

“It’s still shocking,” Beth says. “Not that I live in the past, but still I sit there and think it’s unbelievable.”

When the fog of the funeral passed, Beth remained confounded. She called Fred’s doctors daily for more than a week and requested an autopsy, advocating on behalf of her husband to find out exactly what happened.

Doctors say Fred had everything under control. His total cholesterol was 170, which is within the acceptable range for a man his age. He did not have high blood pressure. His cardiac calcium score was 1, indicating his arteries had a small amount of plaque and he was low risk for a heart attack. But his family history was not in his favor. His grandfather and uncle both died of heart attacks in their 50s. 

“His genes caught up with him,” says Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist who discussed details of Fred’s case with Beth back in February. “That’s the one risk factor you can’t change.”

Ultimately, a piece of plaque fractured in a coronary artery, exposing cholesterol to the blood stream, which induced clotting and caused a heart attack, giving Fred just minutes to live. All the preemptive steps Fred took to be healthy likely bought him an additional 10-15 years.

During that time, Fred watched his kids get married. He met three of his grandkids: Sean’s son Jaxson and daughter Rylee, and Molly’s son Colin, who he saw often while commuting to Detroit.

“I look at my son, and I think of my dad,” says Molly. “There are always little things that remind us of him.”

If Fred had died at the same age as his grandfather, Beth would have been a widow in her 40s. Her 28-year marriage — which she calls her greatest accomplishment — would have been cut in half.

“And he got to watch Cleveland win a championship, which was so dear to his heart,” Beth says. “I still feel a little ripped off, but I know it could have been worse for us, and for his kids.”

The news of Fred’s death had ripple effects throughout Cleveland. Within 10 days, the Cavaliers named their TV studio and media workroom in honor of him as a lasting tribute and symbol of his mentorship to those in the media. His colleagues, Ryan “Boo” Banks and Cheryl Zivich, partnered with Beth to gift 275 of his ties to the Cavs broadcasting team, players, local media and others, such as every NBA play-by-play announcer and even NBA commissioner Adam Silver. And in February, Beth shared her discovery and the importance of heart health advocacy during the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women luncheon at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown.

Wearing a scarlet jumpsuit, she appeared poised in front of the crowd of 700 people, including her husband’s good friend and former Cavs player Anderson Varejao. Before Beth talked about how Fred died, organizers played back a clip from when he called the Cavs win during the 2016 NBA championship.

Pictured alongside Carr in the broadcast booth wearing a black and white striped tie, Fred stands to his feet shouting with his arms outstretched, “It’s over! The 52-year drought is over! The Cavaliers have won the NBA championship!”

He sits down alongside Carr, takes a breath and continues, “18,801 days, and it’s over,” he shouts, voice cracking. “Celebrate, go crazy, because the championship is yours.”

The clip, filmed by Beth, ends when Fred drops his head into his hands and weeps.

Recounting how she lost her husband is never easy, but it’s a story -worth telling.

“If I can just get one of you to go to the doctor or maybe you get your spouse to go to the doctor or maybe you get a neighbor to go to the doctor, then I feel like me telling my husband’s story will help,” she said.

While sitting in Starbucks, Beth thinks back to last October, when she stopped in Homage to buy a few shirts printed with one of Fred’s signature catchphrases, “Right down Euclid!” She planned to pick up only a few of them to hand out to friends but was panic stricken with the idea of the shirts going on clearance. 

“Not just on sale, on clearance,” she says, her eyes wide. “I ended up buying the whole stack.” 

In some ways, it felt like it meant Fred’s legacy might fade. And she was just so sad.

For a while, she stopped going out because people would approach her at the gas station or grocery store with comments or memories about her husband. As much as she appreciated how much people loved Fred and missed him, hearing about it at unexpected times deepened her grief.

“It’s hard to be out there with so many people knowing what you’re going through,” says Beth’s friend and colleague Stefani Schaefer. Nearly nine years ago, Schaefer’s husband suffered from traumatic brain injury as a result of a construction accident. That experience has further bonded the two women over the last year. “That adds a whole new level to the trauma we’ve both experienced.”

Intermittent trips to a friend’s home in South Carolina have helped some, but at home, Beth continues to feel unsure of exactly where she’s headed.

Even the last year without Fred evolved into a year without sports. The days, once spent poring over plays on ESPN and Fox Sports 1 alongside her husband, had been replaced with silent nights — she couldn’t bear to have sports on without him or his commentary. But now, she’s turning a corner. She’s watching on her own.

“Last night, I was watching ESPN, and they were reflecting back on Kirk Gibson’s Dodgers [World Series] home run 32 years ago,” Beth says. “They called it the greatest call in sports history, and I was like, ‘Well, maybe the second greatest.’ ”

Between working and traveling in the last year, Beth has shared Fred’s story and advocated for heart health. But now she knows it’s time to advocate for herself. She’s realized that she may have gone back to work too soon. She’s reconsidering what she’d like to do with her life now that her plans have changed. This past summer she sold the home they’d lived in for 13 years, and moved to a humbler abode. And in January she’ll go on sabbatical from Fox 8 for an undetermined amount of time. Schaefer’s advice is to just take things day by day, which Beth says she has tried to do. Some days she knows all she’ll accomplish is making her bed.

“If nothing else happens that day, then I’m OK, I made my bed,” says Beth. “It’ll be OK. In time.”

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