There can be no greater domestic tranquillity than that which prevails during a quiet evening at the Samuelsons. Dinner had been steamed clams and Joan's stuffed sole with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. She ran the first bottle of the wine across Manhattan during a promotion last November. (The recompense: a trip to France on the Concorde for her parents.) Scott contributed a great, high apple pie. Now he massages her feet with baby oil while they watch a videotape of The Big Chill. In the film, when the deceased Alex is described by the minister as "a brilliant student, having passed through a seemingly random series of occupations," Benoit turns her face to Scott, says, "Remind you of anyone you know?" and drifts off to sleep.
Such an evening is precious for its rarity. There weren't many in the hectic time after the Samuelsons returned from a three-day Bermuda honeymoon. "I can't tell you what I did in those days," Benoit has said. For one thing, she accepted a series of invitations to appear for charities. "I do MS whenever possible, and the Special Olympics, and the Big Sisters of Boston and...."
"I could shoot her for that," says Boston-based lawyer Ed Whittemore, whose job it is to handle Benoit's business affairs. But there is something in those cool blue Benoit eyes that would keep him from pulling the trigger. She knows what is important. Perspective shall be kept, and charity work is part of that. So is serving on a committee to choose a new athletic facility for Bowdoin. And even as she has been run ragged by public demands, she has worked to keep in touch with old friends. "Friendships take precedence over the obligations of being well known," she says. "When I explain that to promoters, race directors and fundraisers, most seem to understand. Of course, it seems that the things I really don't want to do are the ones that have the really persistent people."
Case in point, or, well, a case that illustrates a lot of points, about Benoit and about the state running has got itself into: America's Marathon in Chicago last October. "All year I had been telling both Chicago and New York [which fall a week apart and so are at each other's throats for top runners] that I probably wouldn't race a fall marathon," says Benoit. "The trials and Olympics were an ordeal, and the one time I'd tried to run three marathons in a year , the last one was a disaster, something like a 2:39. So I said I'd see how the training went and wait until the last minute to decide."
Chicago race director Bob Bright, with a lucrative CBS-TV contract in the balance, kept assuring people that Benoit would run—indeed, the week before the race CBS advertised that she would—all the while seeking to secure her presence by sweetening the pot. Bright says Chicago's best offer was $50,000, but at least one authoritative source says it eventually reached $250,000. Benoit, who says she doesn't know how high the offer got, turned it down. "I just wasn't ready to run," she says.
But a six-digit check is some compensation, even for a bad race.
"I wasn't ready to do that to myself," Benoit says. "I couldn't have lived with myself later. Then or later."
In a similar fashion she has been highly selective in the endorsement contracts she has signed. "With Joan, the roads come first, then business," says Whittemore, who, in accepting this, reaches a new and refreshing level of agentry. "She has turned down five or six offers that would net her large amounts from companies because they would take too much time, or she doesn't use the product, or she can't even endorse the use of the product. One, I'm sure, was never refused before."
So she has agreements to represent Nike shoes, Maine Savings Bank and Dole fruits and juices, and is negotiating one that would make her an ambassador for the state of Maine.
She's been representative of Maine independence all her life. When she and Bill Rodgers lunched with the Jimmy Carters at the White House after the 1979 Boston Marathon, Rosalynn Carter happened to ask Benoit how she felt about nuclear power. "I told her," says Benoit. "She soon found out that wasn't lunch table conversation."