BOSTON — Will Cloney, who as race director watched over the Boston Marathon for 36 years, may not see the event's 91st running Monday.
"I'm not sure," Cloney said in an interview last week. "It depends on the weather and some of the other imponderables."
Asked to explain, he said, "Let's skip it."
Such is the state of affairs after the Boston Athletic Assn.'s first experiment with commercialization of the race prompted a lengthy lawsuit and Cloney's resignation in 1982.
Yet Cloney, now 75 and retired in nearby Scituate, said he still feels a part of the race even though "I have absolutely no part in it. Nobody's asked me for anything.
"You know John Hancock (Financial Services, the race sponsor) doesn't invite me to any of its parties or anything like that," he said. "But that's all right."
Frank Swift, current BAA president, said in a congenial though hesitant interview last week that space in the viewing stand is available to Cloney if he wants it.
"I don't want to put it in the sense of an offer," he added, "but the knowledge that there is space available for him to use if he'd like too. We have no power on Earth to force him."
Until 1982, Cloney was the president of the BAA and the race director of the marathon, and "he did a lot of things with it," said Swift. "He made a lot of contributions to the continuation of the marathon."
Today, however, Swift said, "There is probably a diverse view of Will Cloney not only inside, (but) perhaps outside of the BAA that derives substantially from six years ago."
Cloney signed a contract with Boston attorney and sports promoter Marshall Medoff to obtain corporate sponsors for the race, allowing prize money to be offered to the winners for the first time.
The contract led to litigation that wasn't settled until last year, and it led to Cloney's 1982 "disassociation," as Swift puts its, with the BAA and the marathon.
Swift maintains that it was "the contract, not the prize money" that tainted Cloney with the BAA and has, if not overshadowed, "certainly clouded" his nearly four decades as the marathon's director.
Cloney, a longtime advocate of prize money and other efforts to make Boston competitive with other marathons, takes heart in the fact that a resistant BAA finally agreed to outside sponsorship and prize money last year.
But Cloney doesn't take it as a major mark of personal vindication.
"People call me and say, 'Hey you were right. You were right.' And I say, 'Of course I was right.' But that's all right," he said.
Describing himself as never a runner but always a sports enthusiast, Cloney became director of the marathon and two other since-disbanded BAA track meets somewhat by accident.
Cloney recalls 40 years ago sitting with his friend the late Walter Brown, then BAA president and head of the Boston Garden, talking about problems at one of the meets, the BAA Indoor Games.
"The New York college coaches said they'd never bring a team to Boston again if the same people running the meet were there," Cloney said. "I don't want to go into all the details, but a little of the grape was involved . . .
"So, Walter and I were talking about it and he said finally, 'Well, if you're so damned smart, why don't you run it yourself.' And in a moment of stupidity I said, 'OK.' "
Cloney helped guide the marathon from what he called an "appendage" of the BAA's activities to its main event, popularly spurred on by marathoner Frank Shorter's Olympic victory and the booming "fitness business" of the 1970s.
"There used to be 200 or 300 entries when we first started, and that made it kind of a fun type of thing," Cloney said. "Then it gradually developed into a pretty difficult logistical problem."
He used to spend about two hours a week over two months getting the marathon together. When he left the job, he was working on the marathon nearly every day for six months of the year and part time the other six months.
Through all those years, as Cloney moved from an associate professor at Northeastern University to sports editor of the old Boston Post to vice president for 20 years for Keystone Custodian Funds, he worked for the marathon for nothing.
Now the BAA has a paid administrator, separate from the BAA president. And $10-million, 10-year sponsor John Hancock not only is putting up the cash prizes, but is helping with media services and related projects.
"They have done all the things I said," said Cloney.