The Class of 1966 lost a valued classmate, and I lost a lifelong friend, when Korbin Liu died on August 12, 2007, of esophageal cancer.
Korbin was born in Foochow, China, in 1944, and he came to Washington, DC, in 1947 to join his parents who had arrived the previous year. His father was a naval attaché at that time with the Chinese Embassy.
Korbin graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC. He received his BA degree in biology at Amherst, an MS degree in public health from the Univ. of Massachusetts, and a PhD in population sciences from Harvard Univ. Korbin previously worked with the Health Care Financing Administration, the Public Health Service, and the National Center for Health Services Research. He was also a teaching fellow at Harvard while he was earning his doctorate.
For more than two decades, Korbin was a health policy analyst with the Urban Institute, and his primary research area was long-term care, which included work on Medicare, Medicaid, and those dually eligible for both programs. His good humor, friendliness, and unflappability made him extremely popular with his co-workers. “He was so much more than the job here,” said his colleague of fifteen years, Sharon Long. “He wanted to know the whole person—your family, partners, and pets. He’d have funny stories about the day, and he touched a lot of people.” Korbin’s research was prodigious, and in an October 2007 In Memoriam, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded, “His contribution to health services research will not soon be forgotten.”
Korbin and I were fraternity brothers at Phi Gam, and we became lifelong friends. We participated in each other’s weddings, and we watched our daughters grow into wonderful young women. Korbin and I went camping together when I returned home from Vietnam in 1970, and he gave me the space and the understanding to once again re-enter the “real world” after a year at war. We drove together from DC to attend our 35th Amherst Reunion. Amherst was always very special to Korbin, and he served as an associate Class agent for many years.
Korbin deeply loved his wife, Barbara Marzetta Liu, and his three daughters. Although his work at the Urban Institute brought him national and international recognition, he often remarked that his most satisfying undertaking was the six years he coached a Little League softball team with his daughter, Katharine, and his twin daughters, Meredith and Kimberly. “He was an only child who married, had three girls, and became coach of fifteen girls,” said Tom Moore, who coached with him. “He was a stickler for fundamentals. He would drill them, speaking softly, always very calm. He never showed any bad behavior in front of the kids, just very steady and very kind.”
In later years, Korbin had a special weekend ritual: buying garden supplies for his spacious yard and planting and re-planting new shrubs, plants, and flowers. On Sunday night he would announce, “There—it’s done. The garden is perfect, and I’m retiring.” But the following Friday he would repeat the same process all over again. “It’s like a madness about him,” joked Barbara. “I’d say, can’t we just go out to breakfast on the weekend?”
Korbin’s three daughters returned to Washington, DC, at the end of July to celebrate Korbin’s birthday, but by then, his health had taken a turn for the worse. Barbara, Katharine, Kimberly, and Meredith were with Korbin at the hospice around the clock, telling stories, playing videos of his favorite old movies, singing, and reliving many wonderful memories. Barbara told me, “We like to think that in the end we managed to give Korbin a grand send-off, however much he hated to die, and we hated to let him go.”
Survivors include Korbin’s wife of twenty-eight years, Barbara Marzetta Liu of Washington; three daughters, Katharine Korbin Liu ’03 of Washington, Kimberly Anna Liu of Cambridge, MA, and Meredith Lara Liu of Boston; and his mother, Tung-Sen Chen Liu of Washington.
We shall miss Korbin very much, and his enduring friendship, his unflappable good humor, and his wise counsel.
—Peter Swisher ’66