By Lanier Laney
Although their jobs are very different — Maxine has been an executive and board assistant at Historic Beaufort Foundation for 14 years while Benton has been a psychotherapist and founded Counseling Services of Beaufort in 2001 — Maxine and Benton Lutz both have a common desire to help our community.
Maxine said, “What I love most about my job is the opportunity to be involved in a cause that, when achieved, results in a better community. I love working with civic groups, HBF supporters and historic property owners to retain the architectural aesthetic that we are so fortunate to have in Beaufort. Formerly I was a newspaper-woman (the old-fashioned term) for The Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg and I looked at that work in the same way — an opportunity to educate people in order to build a better place to live. The physical beauty of Beaufort reminded me of my home on the Gulf in Foley, Alabama, which has been swallowed by over-development. I saw an opportunity to be involved here before it’s too late.”
Describing his work as a counselor, Benton said, “I help people find their way through some of life’s most perplexing problems. The world has a thousand ways to break your heart and a thousand ways to make it happy. I hope I help people find their way through the pain to the happy. Being a psychotherapist is a privilege, in that people trust you with their most private pains and pleasures. I like to help people find new ways of dealing with their lives. I am a guide, not answer man or an advice-giver. Sometimes it is like we are lost in a thick jungle together, the client and me, and we have machetes and we are trying to forge a new path. Sometimes we find the way, sometimes we get lost for a while, but the thing is, I am committed to be there with them until they don’t need me any more.”
Benton was born and raised in Sumter and met and married Maxine at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., 44 years ago. Maxine said, “Benton and I were friends before we started dating and during that time discovered that we shared the same values, the same interests, the same goals for making a difference in peoples’ lives and in our community … and most importantly, we shared the same sense of humor.”
And they both love and enjoy their two children: Alicia, 35, who is an accomplished editor and writer in Charleston after graduating with an English degree from the College of Charleston, and Will, 29, who is currently studying at the Citadel to be a history teacher.
The couple moved to Beaufort after hearing about it and Benton said he liked the city because it cultivates a unique perspective. “I have a theory that life is more interesting on the edge of things. There is more energy, eccentricity, odd goings on, and creativity at the edge, between two worlds. Water and Land. A lot of the people here are willing to think outside the box.”
And Maxine adds, “one reason we moved here is that we read in The (Beaufort) Gazette about the hospital establishing a “Tootie hotline” for citizens concerned about the health of Tootie, a well-known local character who always led the parades. We thought we wanted to live in a town with a Tootie hotline!”
It was here that Benton first started painting. “I did about 10 paintings on some retrieved plywood and house paint from the garage,” he said. “I took them to Elayne Scott who ran the Red Piano at the time and asked her to tell me this stuff was no good so I could stop. Instead she asked to sell my work in her gallery. Since then I haven’t been able to stop. I know I’m not the best artist in the town (maybe not even under my own roof) but I have fun. I’m usually trying to say something sophisticated with the vocabulary of a child, so much of it comes off as whimsical and almost cartoonish.” Since then, Benton has had numerous shows and is known as one of Beaufort’s best “Outsider” (or untrained) folk artists.
“I just really love to paint,” Benton said. He also loves helping people in his psychotherapy job, where he uses art therapy to help his many children clients open up and express and process their feelings. “I find that if a child’s hands are busy with art, they will tell you things they might never say. If not verbal, then they will use the play itself to tell you what is going on,” Benton said. He added about his older clients, “I listen for a living and you hear incredible stories of courage and endurance from clients that can be, and often are, told in very funny ways.”
Benton and Maxine also have created a beautiful garden around their historic house behind the post office downtown at the corner of North and West streets. Sometimes you can see some of Benton’s paintings on display in the garden.
Together, this couple has done a lot over the years to contribute to the quality of life we all love in Beaufort and for that, we give them our heartfelt thanks.