Gayle Benson said that she shed tears upon receiving the news.
"It was a real shock," she said.
But, likely, it wasn't much of a surprise to the people who best know Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints and governor of the New Orleans Pelicans. The Loving Cup, presented by The Times-Picayune since 1901, annually has been awarded to New Orleanians whose philanthropic efforts and community involvement soar above and beyond, a bar easily cleared by Benson, the 2021 honoree.
"When I reflect back on the history of the men and women who have been recipients of the Loving Cup, I am truly humbled to be included in their company," Benson said Tuesday evening, during the presentation that was held inside the Saints' indoor practice facility at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. "Each accomplished so much and dedicated themselves to the people of New Orleans. The Loving Cup is truly a fitting name for this special recognition, as those who have been honored with it over the years have all shared an impassioned love of our community and fierce loyalty to the people and institutions that make New Orleans the unique, special place it is for all of us."
She lamented that her late husband, Tom Benson, wasn't present to have received the award himself.
New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson was awarded the Loving Cup Award on Tuesday, May 10 at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. The Times-Picayune has awarded the Cup annually since 1901.
"One of the greatest gifts Tom and I shared in our marriage is love – our love for each other, our love for the city, its schools, its churches, its playgrounds, its hospitals," she said. "But more than anything, our love for its people. We truly have been blessed in our lives and it is because New Orleans has chosen to support us.
"It is my obligation to honor that support by investing in what is most important to our city's future success – schools that will educate a world-class work force, health-care institutions that care for and cure our sick, local and regional businesses that will keep our children at home, and supporting the spiritual and cultural institutions that make New Orleans special.
"Obviously, I'm not alone in this mission. I know and I realize we all get frustrated with the challenges that we face today, and there are many. There are clearly critical issues that threaten our future that we as a community must solve. While those challenges are significant, I truly believe we are capable of meeting all of them with the same resilience, spirit, and flat-out stubbornness that has defined New Orleans since its birth."
The Loving Cup honoree is chosen by a five-person committee, which receives letters of recommendation from the community. Committee members serve once, ensuring that a different committee makes the selection each year.
"The Loving Cup recipient also is someone who goes without seeking recognition," said John Georges, owner of The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com. "After all, Gayle Benson is already one of the best-known names in the city, and as the owner of the Saints and Pelicans, already has recognition.
"Gayle Benson's giving began with the Catholic Church, long before owning the Saints and the Pelicans. Her giving never ended with the Catholic Church. We learned from all these letters about (donations to) Ochsner, NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art), Audubon Institute, Tulane (University), Loyola (University), Jesuit, St. Aug, Brother Martin (high schools), and the list goes on and on."