Tom Benson biography
Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : New Orleans, Louisiana
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-10-18
Credited as : Businessman, owner of the New Orleans Saints NFL, Super Bowl
Tom Benson’s pronouncement that he would one day bring a championship to New Orleans came to fruition on February 7, 2010 when his New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV.
The Saints’ successful march to the National Football League’s Championship level culminated with the presentation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy on a Sunday evening under warm skies in South Florida. The coveted award ceremony embodied the testament and realization of the principles that Mr. Benson has instilled in the Saints’ organization throughout his 25 years of team ownership.
The essential qualities and directives of Benson’s tenure as owner of the Saints have been unadorned – direct all of his efforts and resources towards bringing the fans what have been consistently new levels of success on the football field, all the while supporting his hometown and the entire region by investing in the community. Mr. Benson has understood since purchasing the club in 1985 that the Saints are part of the fabric of the Gulf South: a cornerstone of the region economically and he has made them a leader in economic development and charitable causes.
In 2009, the Saints entered their 25th season under Benson’s ownership, a period defined by historic advancements in successes, whether it be measured by victories, playoff appearances, Superdome attendance figures, national television coverage, positive economic impacts both locally and regionally, as well as serving as one of the most philanthropic and charitable citizens in the city’s rich and colorful history. Mr. Benson, dating back to his assumption of ownership of the Saints in 1985, also immediately emerged as one of the most trusted and valued figures in the league. He has played a key role in many capacities, including three stints as Chairman of the Finance Committee, one of the league’s most challenging and influential positions. The assignment is evidence of the respect and esteem in which successive NFL commissioners and his fellow NFL owners hold him.
During his ownership and leadership of the Saints, Benson has helped drive the evolution of the team’s legion of fans support that reached a crescendo when the supporters turned out in record numbers to welcome the Saints home from the Super Bowl for a parade that organizers stated exceeded 800,000 spectators.
While his work within the organization and the Saints’ turnaround is well documented, his efforts have also paid dividends for the city and the surrounding area. During his tenure as owner, the city has hosted four Super Bowls, and was awarded Super Bowl XLVII (to be played in 2013). Mr. Benson has been the driving force behind each campaign to secure the contest, and made this latest accomplishment his top priority in an effort to present the recovery of New Orleans on an international level. Each Super Bowl has been an economic windfall that totals over $400 million in economic impact, not to mention the exposure and charitable contributions the NFL makes during Super Bowl week.
Mr. Benson has made the objectives of success, support and investment in the region not only his personal direction daily, but the core values of the entire organization. Success has followed, both on the field and off. When Mr. Benson purchased the team, the Saints entered the most compelling and memorable period in franchise history. Prior to his arrival, the club’s fans had never enjoyed a winning record, celebrated a division title or experienced the thrill of playoff victories.
But Mr. Benson’s impact was immediate. Two years after assuming the reins of the organization, the Saints hosted their first playoff contest. After multiple winning seasons, playoff berths and division titles since, in 2006 the club advanced to the NFC Championship Game, lifting the spirits of the entire region.
His dedication to New Orleans has been among Mr. Benson’s most rewarding endeavors. Since 2005, he has positioned the Saints as a leader in the recovery of the region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history. The club was among the first major businesses to return to New Orleans, and in 2006 had a thrilling season that became an inspiration for a region on the mend. The efforts of the organization have continued to lift the community, with the team serving as an economic engine and a pacesetter in philanthropic contributions.
Under Mr. Benson’s guidance, the Saints have been a focal point for healing and restoration – with over $15 million donated by the club in charitable contributions, goods and services having been given throughout the Gulf South and Greater New Orleans. He pledged the club’s commitment to the region was firm and lasting, with his focus on building a stronger and more unified city. It’s a direction that continues to evolve and expand.
Mr. Benson’s most ambitious project to date was announced in the spring of 2009 when he stepped forward with the purchase of the formerly vacant and blighted Dominion Tower in New Orleans’ Central Business District. As part of the agreement, Benson and his family also purchased the unoccupied New Orleans Centre. The two important commercial spaces, which were vacant since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, are helping to return the CBD into a more vibrant and viable sector of New Orleans and revitalizing an area that was largely ignored for the better part of four years.
Benson’s economic investment plan will revitalize the Superdome area, and the newly signed agreement with the state includes a dramatic modernization of the stadium. The upgrades with his help will include a legion of new enhancements to improve the fan experience for all events at the Superdome and keep the building competitive with new stadiums across the world.
Mr. Benson’s vision of what an NFL club should be off the field – proactive, with a positive impact on the prosperity of the community and the charities that support the less fortunate – has been the determining factor of the Saints’ approach.
In 2008, he purchased WVUE, making FOX-8 the only network-affiliated television station in the New Orleans market that is wholly locally owned. After researching the trends of the media industry, Mr. Benson discovered television stations have increasingly become parts of national media conglomerates, and his focus remains on keeping Louisiana businesses owned by those with ties to the state.
His tenure as owner has been defined by honesty, dedication, loyalty and commitment to the city, region, Saints and the NFL. When Mr. Benson initially became interested in purchasing the club in 1985, he was motivated by out-of-town investors were planning to move the club from New Orleans. He was certainly a fan of the game and the Saints, but the sport had yet to become one of Benson’s passions.
As one of the area’s top businessmen, Mr. Benson recognized the importance of the team to the region, and he immediately spearheaded the effort to keep the Saints. But unlike others at the time, it wasn’t just an emotional plea. He pooled all of his resources, purchased the club in 1985 and preserved the Saints for the team’s legion of fans across the area. And the once-rampant speculation that the club was moving immediately ceased.
While Mr. Benson’s initial motivation for purchasing the team was to ensure it did not leave New Orleans, all of the Saints’ best seasons have come since his arrival, and Mr. Benson’s goal remains for the club to rank among the most admired franchises in all of sports, a feat that took a monumental step forward with the Saints’ first-ever NFC and NFL championships in 2009.
Community involvement has been the hallmark of the Benson era since he became the owner of the team, and because of those efforts the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame has twice recognized the club as one of the five most charitable professional organizations. Mr. Benson was selected by the Volunteers of American as the winner of its annual Good Samaritan Award in Philanthropy in recognition of his work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In 2010 Benson was honored by Loyola University with the school’s Integritas Vitae Award, the school’s highest honor. The award is annually presented 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. In addition, Benson was honored by the New Orleans chapter of CRIMESTOPPERS with the James J. Coleman Corporate Partner Award for his continued support of the national organization with their an independent non-profit organization that works with law enforcement agencies in their work to identify and apprehend criminals.
For his humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors that have positively affected the lives of so many individuals and groups, Benson was recently honored by the Roman Catholic Church with an Oblate Doctor of Human Letters (to a person who has achieved the human purpose for which Divine Providence Placed Him on Earth) certificate that honors his “realities of the most noble of human endeavors, weighted by criteria arising from the deepest human values.” The certificate also honors “excellence in the area of life where excellence makes the most difference,” and further cites Benson’s “attributes and accomplishments that come closest to what God would be interested in honoring.”
His wife, the former Gayle Marie LaJaunie and a fellow native of New Orleans, is also involved in several charitable endeavors, including supporting local and regional causes. Mr. and Mrs. Benson have also funded the building of a football stadium located on the University of Incarnate Word Campus, known as Gayle and Tom Benson Field. The school’s team took to the field for the first time in 2009 and will continue to grow and build their foundation with Benson’s unwavering support. In addition, the Benson family also established an endowment fund at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio that is dedicated to the memory of the late Robert Carter Benson, who graduated from the school in 1962. Tom Benson also donated the Benson Memorial Library at Central Catholic. Benson also is working closely with the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans on a Cancer Center that will be named in his honor through a generous donation that is spurring the hospital’s growth.
In 1945, Mr. 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, 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 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 D-Day Museum in New Orleans, with his pledges helping fund the Pacific Exhibit Grand Opening and the Midway Theater.