By Claire Dinwiddie, New Orleans Junior Journalism
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In addition to playing a leadership role in professional sports, Gayle Benson has spent the majority of her life contributing to an assortment of cultural aspects in New Orleans. Her successful 30-year design career and deep Catholic faith influenced her to donate to schools and hospitals including Ochsner, St. Mary's Dominican High School, Tulane University, Brother Martin High School. In her own words, Mrs. Benson's "commitment to the Saints, Pelicans and the city of New Orleans will never waver."
Following Tuesday's Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation Quarterback Club luncheon, the Saints and Pelicans executive officer sat down with New Orleans Junior Journalism (JRNOLA) writer Claire Dinwiddie and shared some insight into what it means to be in such an influential position.
CD: Being a New Orleans native and local graduate, what does it mean to you to be in a position that shapes so many different aspects of the city you grew up in?
GB: I am truly humbled to be in the position that we are in. I grew up in New Orleans, so this has been my hometown forever. It's just overwhelming for me to think that I'm in this position. I was a designer for 30 years before I met my husband (Tom), and even though we've only been married for 13 years, it's just been a great honor and I feel so blessed to be able to help so many people.
CD: Knowing that the Catholic Church plays a large role in your and Mr. Benson's lives, what are some examples of how your faith contributes to your success?
GB: Well, I think faith is the core of our success. I felt that way before I met my husband, and I feel like that now. I think that the more you put in God's hands, the easier it is to become successful. I think when we struggle with trying to do things on our own, it becomes a big problem for us. So, I think if we have faith whether it's in our studies, work or any position we may be in, I think we can fall back on God and have him help us.
CD: How has your ownership of the Saints and Pelicans opened doors to contributing to other aspects of the city such as healthcare, education and the arts?
GB: The more successful you are and the more that you make, the more requests you get. And so, we have to discern who to give to, how much money to give to certain people so it's an honor for us to do it but you do have to discern because there are so many needs in the city.
CD: How has your experience and work ethic with the design industry helped you in your business endeavors?
GB: Well, I really believe what I did in the design business for 30 years really helped me with what I'm doing today. As far as management goes in working with people, because for 30 years I did hotels, residencies, grocery stores – I did all of it. It was a lot of work and I dealt with a lot of people and because of that experience I feel like I'm able to take on big projects.
CD: What are your hopes for the city of New Orleans and the future generation to obtain from your and Mr. Benson's investments in the city?
GB: We're hoping that it brings the city together and makes it a better city than it is now. I always pray that in life we want to leave this world a better place than when we got here.
CD: After having donated to local Catholic schools such as Brother Martin, Jesuit and even my school – Dominican High School – what are your hopes for students who have access to these facilities?
GB: I hope that the students can have the faith and the endurance to continue to work and be strong people and become successful adults and help the community just like we did.
CD: Are you on social media?
GB: No. I don't even know what social media is (chuckles). I don't do Facebook or anything but I do email and text but it's for business.
CD: Favorite way to spend a Saturday night in New Orleans?
GB: I like to eat popcorn and sit on the sofa and be with my husband and my two little yorkies. I also like to watch a movie; if there isn't a football game on I get to watch a movie.
CD: Favorite local restaurant/dish?
GB: It's just so hard to choose, but we do frequent Commander's Palace. I am a vegetarian so I don't eat a whole lot of anything. They will usually prepare risotto with vegetables.
CD: Favorite festival/special event?
GB: There's so many events here, oh my goodness. And I don't really get to any of them because if it's not football, basketball, or horse racing I don't really get to the festivals. They're all really nice and I continue to wish them success because we have so many here and I think they're wonderful and it looks like every time I turn around there's a new festival, which is great.