Frederick Lieb, a McCormick junior, died of a genetic heart condition early Sunday after post-game celebrations on Ryan Field following Northwestern’s football victory over Ohio State. He was 20.
Lieb’s friends describe him as selfless, genuine and always easy to get along with. Barred from participating in most sports because of his heart condition, Lieb instead became a walking sports encyclopedia, learning from TV and computer resources.
“He kind of turned into a fantasy football, fantasy baseball expert,” said Steve Shellenbarger, a close friend of Lieb’s who was with Lieb on Saturday night at the football game and then followed him to Evanston Hospital.
“I was in one of his leagues and I was always asking him to help me out. He always knew more about sports than I did,” Shellenbarger said.
Growing up, the only sport Lieb could play was baseball because it wouldn’t make him winded, said Frank O’Donnell, a Weinberg junior and Lieb’s roommate his freshman year in Bobb Hall.
Lieb, a chemical engineering major, suffered from a genetic heart problem that forced him to use a pacemaker. He dealt with shortness of breath frequently. Daily medication was a fact of life, O’Donnell said.
Lieb and O’Donnell worked together two or three days a week at the Foster Reading Center, an after-school program for students in kindergarten through third grade.
They started the job as part of their work-study requirement two years ago. It was like any job, O’Donnell said: Sometimes you pay attention and work hard — and sometimes you don’t.
But O’Donnell said he always got the impression Lieb really cared about the kids he worked with, keeping O’Donnell on task if they got too distracted.
“I liked to goof around a lot and so did he,” O’Donnell said. “But a lot of times at work he would keep me intact. He really did care about helping the kids.”
Dian Meechai, a McCormick junior who met Lieb in a freshman calculus class, said Lieb had quirks that made him stand out. He always had a slouch, she said. His head always was tilted funny.
“He was always just Rick,” Meechai said. “I’m a very bouncy, bubbly, crazy person who’s all over the place. But he’s just a chill guy who you’d always count on to be the same.”
Meechai didn’t consider herself among Lieb’s “main circle of friends,” who she said were mostly guys.
She spent time with him erratically, almost always one-on-one. They last had dinner together Friday night at the dining room in Sargent Hall.
“He was always the guy who I would talk on IM with randomly,” Meechai said. “I would hang out with him, but not usually with his other friends. This summer, whenever he had a party, I would go with him … He was a really cool, chill, laid-back guy.”
“If you wanted to get food at 2 o’clock, he was the kind of person you could call and he’d say, ‘Yeah, sure, let’s go,'” Shellenbarger, a Weinberg junior, said.
Friends said accepting Lieb’s loss has been difficult.
“I’m not going to take his IM screen name off my buddy list,” Meechai said. “I’m going to keep it there. I don’t want to think of it as being gone.”
Reach Dan Strumpf at [email protected]