Tom Benson, owner of Super Bowl XLIV championship team the New Orleans Saints, is the 2010 recipient of the Integritas Vitae Award, Loyola University New Orleans' highest honor.
The Integritas Vitae Award is presented by Loyola's board of trustees to an individual who exemplifies the qualities Loyola seeks to instill in its students. The recipient is chosen for displaying high moral character and selfless service, without expectation of material reward or public recognition, and adhering to the principles of honesty, integrity, justice and the preservation of human dignity. Benson will be honored at Loyola's Benefactors' Dinner on March 11 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.
The Saints entered their 25th season under Tom Benson's ownership in 2009, a season that culminated with the team winning its first NFC and Super Bowl championships in the franchise's history. Benson has been the driving force behind campaigns to secure Super Bowls for New Orleans, and during his tenure, the city hosted four Super Bowls and recently landed Super Bowl XLVII, to be played in 2013.
Benson stepped forward recently with a new partnership that will sustain the club's commitment to the state of Louisiana through 2025 and also created a vision that will bring a Sports Development District to the city. As part of the agreement with the state, Benson and his family will purchase and redevelop the New Orleans Centre, a mall adjacent to the Superdome that has been vacant and in disrepair since 2005, and the Dominion Tower, an office building near the stadium that has also been unused since Hurricane Katrina. It has now since been renamed Benson Tower.
In 2008, Benson purchased local Fox affiliate WVUE-TV, making it the only wholly locally-owned network-affiliated television station in the New Orleans market. That same year, Benson was selected by the Volunteers of America as the winner of its annual Good Samaritan Award in Philanthropy in recognition of his work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His personal leadership in philanthropy has been mirrored in his sports organization. The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame has twice recognized the Saints organization as one of the five most charitable professional organizations.
Benson, who received an honorary degree from Loyola in 1987, has also been a long-time supporter of the university. In 1999, his generous gift to Loyola University funded the first phase of construction of the Gregory R. Choppin Chemistry Wing in Monroe Hall. Choppin and Benson met as classmates at Loyola and have remained friends. Choppin has enjoyed a fascinating career as a chemist, particularly during the peak of the Cold War. In 1955, Choppin and three other chemists discovered chemical element 101, which they named Mendelevium in honor of Dmitri Mendelev, the creator of the periodic table of the elements. The wing was completed in fall 2008.
Benson also made a considerable contribution to Loyola University to create the Jesuit Social Research Institute. The JSRI, a collaboration of the New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus and Loyola University, was established in 2007 to promote research, social analysis, theological reflection and practical strategies for improving the social and economic conditions in the southern United States and in select parts of the Caribbean and Latin America with a particular focus on issues of race, poverty and migration.
In 1945, Benson served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. South Dakota and has remained particularly close to this branch of the armed forces. He is the only enlisted man to serve on the board of trustees of the Pensacola Naval Museum and has been honored with an award from the crew of the submarine U.S.S. Louisiana. In 2007, Benson was honored by the U.S. Navy Memorial with the Lone Sailor Award, presented to those who exemplify the core values of honor, courage and commitment.
Benson was a leading advocate for the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., and a major contributor and past director of The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, where his pledges helped fund the Pacific Exhibit grand opening and the Midway Theater.