Tom Benson, 90
Thomas Milton Benson, Jr., 90, passed away peacefully Thursday, March 15, 2018. He was born on July 12, 1927 in New Orleans to Thomas Milton Benson, Sr. and Carmelite Marie Pintado Benson. He is survived by his loving wife, Gayle Marie Benson.
Benson grew up in New Orleans in the 7th Ward. He graduated from St. Aloysius High School (now Brother Martin) in 1944. He was joined in the Benson household by brothers, Jerome, Larry and Augustin, who would later join him in family owned businesses. He enrolled at Loyola University of New Orleans, intending to study business and accounting, but he soon left his classes to enlist in the U.S. Navy. As a seaman, Benson was assigned to the USS South Dakota. Upon the conclusion of World War II, Benson returned home to New Orleans and continued his business administration studies while also working to support his family as a part-time clerk at a local accounting firm.
Benson married Shirley Mae Landry in 1945. They adopted three children, Robert Carter Benson, Jeanne Marie "Tootsie" Benson and Renee LeBlanc Benham. After 36 years of marriage, Shirley passed away due to complications from lupus in 1980. He was remarried in 1982 to Grace Marie (Trudeau) Benson, who passed away due to complications from Parkinson's Disease in 2003.
In 2004, Benson married Gayle (LaJaunie) Benson.
From a business perspective, Benson's journey began in 1958 with a move to San Antonio to run the business operations for a Chevrolet dealership owned by New Orleans car dealer Michael Persia Sr. In 1962, Benson expanded his commercial real estate and automobile dealerships in Texas. He also successfully expanded his business interests into the banking industry. In 1985, Benson purchased the New Orleans Saints after learning that the football team was on the verge of being sold to parties interested in relocating the team to Jacksonville, Fla. Ownership of the Saints was officially transferred to him on May 31, 1985. In 1987, the Saints posted their first winning season (12-3) and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in team history. In their first 17 years of existence, the Saints won a total of 73 games. Under Benson's guidance, the franchise exceeded that win total by 1992. The team reached even greater heights in 2006, when Benson entrusted Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis to hire Sean Payton as head coach and sign quarterback Drew Brees. Since those moves, the franchise has reached its highest point of success, posting a 119-85 overall record over the past 12 years, qualifying for the playoffs six times and winning four NFC South titles, capped by the Super Bowl XLIV Championship. In addition, the city of New Orleans hosted five Super Bowls during Benson's ownership tenure.
Benson purchased the New Orleans Hornets in 2012 from the National Basketball Association and soon thereafter renamed the team the New Orleans Pelicans. In addition to providing stability to the franchise with local ownership, under Benson's leadership, the Pelicans returned to the playoffs in 2015 and during his tenure, the city of New Orleans was awarded and hosted two NBA All-Star Games.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson established the Gayle and Tom Benson Charitable Foundation in 2007. Through that foundation, they have invested heavily in philanthropic endeavors. They established an endowment fund at Central Catholic High School, in San Antonio, Texas dedicated to the memory of Robert Carter Benson, who graduated from the school in 1966. They also donated the Benson Memorial Library at Central Catholic.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson long have been ardent supporters of University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium officially opened on campus September 1, 2008. Also in San Antonio, Texas at St. Anthony Catholic School there is a Library named after Mr. Benson's son.
In 2012, Benson and his wife Gayle were awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for their generosity to the Catholic Church, the highest papal honor that Catholic laypeople can receive. In 2012, Benson and his wife donated $7.5 million towards the construction of Tulane University's Yulman Stadium. The stadium, which opened in 2014, brought the Green Wave back to campus for the first time since the demolition of Tulane Stadium in 1980. The playing surface is known as Benson Field.
In November, 2014, Fawcett Stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio was renamed "Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium" in recognition of a $11 million donation by the Foundation. A completely renovated facility was dedicated in 2017.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson displayed their commitment to the health and wellness of the local community with a $5 million Foundation gift to establish the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center on the main campus of Ochsner Medical Center. The center was built and has since been upgraded following multiple gifts to the area's leading health service network of hospitals and clinics, most recently a $20 million donation in 2015 to expand cancer services and advance clinical research in the Gulf region.
Supporting the efforts of former Saints safety Steve Gleason and his Team Gleason organization which helps provide people with ALS and other neuromuscular conditions an environment where they can live vital and productive lives with meaningful freedom and independence, Mr. and Mrs. Benson gave a $5 million Foundation gift in 2014 to the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living at the New Orleans St. Margaret's facility. Mr. Benson was 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.
Regarding military service, Mr. Benson was 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, Mr. 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. In 2009, Benson was presented with the U.S. Army's "Army Strong" Award in recognition for his position in the community while demonstrating leadership and Army Values on a daily basis. A leading advocate for the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., Mr. Benson was also a major contributor and past director of The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, with his pledges helping fund the Pacific Exhibit Grand Opening and the Midway Theater. In 2011, he was among five NFL owners honored with an American Spirit Award by the museum for service in the war.
Funeral and Memorial details will be forthcoming.
A look back through the years with New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson.