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.