Tom Benson was a highly successful multi-billion dollar business mogul and philanthropist. He was best known for his ownership of 2 professional sports franchises, the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. As the principal owner of the franchise, Benson participated in the historic Super Bowl XLIV victory of the New Orlean Saints in 2010.
Bio – Who Was Tom Benson?
Thomas Milton Benson was born on July 12, 1927, in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Thomas Benson Sr. and Carmen Benson. He served in the United States military as a young adult, then earned a degree in accounting from Loyola University New Orleans.
After graduating in 1948, Benson was employed as a salesman at Cathey Chevrolet, a car dealership in New Orleans. In 1956 he was transferred to the Chevrolet dealership in San Antonio, where he was able to revive the company’s previous poor performance. His hard work earned him massive bonuses over the years, and in 1962 he was able to take full ownership of the company that eventually became the Tom Benson Chevrolet. He also owned several other car dealerships in San Antonio and the New Orleans area. With the proceeds from his thriving car business, Benson invested in several small banks in the region, many of which he eventually bought and which were known as Benson Financial.
On May 31, 1985, business mogul Tom Benson bought the New Orleans Saints professional soccer team, which eventually became one of the most remarkable investments of his career. He quickly hired the services of general manager Jim Finks and head coach Jim Mora, both of whom helped to put the formerly inferior franchise on the road to success. Over the years, his popularity as a team owner in the league skyrocketed. The culmination of Benson’s more than three decades as owner of the New Orleans Saints came in 2010 when the team won its first Super Bowl title, the Super Bowl XLIV.
In 1992, Tom Benson made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Minor League baseball team, the Charlotte Knights. He also launched a team in the Arena Football League in 2004, the New Orleans VooDoo, but gave up ownership of the company in 2008. On April 13, 2012, Benson acquired an NBA franchise, the New Orleans Hornets (now the New Orleans Pelicans). He further enhanced his multi-billion dollar fortune in July 2017 when he acquired a controlling interest in Dixie Brewing Co. LLC.
Family Life; Wife And Daughter
Until his death, Tom Benson was married to Gayle Benson (née LaJaunie) for several years. The couple sealed the marriage on October 29, 2004, in St. Louis Cathedral, followed by a reception at the New Orleans Museum of Art. After 10 years of marital bliss, they renewed their vows on October 22, 2014, at the same location.
Tom Benson was married twice before his union with Gayle Benson. His first wife Shirley Landry died in 1980 after 26 years of marriage. His marriage to his second wife Grace Marie Trudeau Benson ended in 2003 when the latter died of Parkinson’s disease.
He had three children, Robert Carter Benson, Renee Benson, and Jeanne Marie “Tootsie” Benson, whom he adopted along with his first wife Shirley Landry. However, Robert died in January 1986 at the age of 37. Sadly, Benson’s daughter and youngest child Jeanne Marie took her own life in April 1991 at the age of 31.
At the time of his death, Tom Benson had only one surviving child, his daughter Renee, who has two children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc. Unfortunately, the relationship between the father-daughter duo deteriorated several years before his death. The culmination of their broken relationship came in January 2015 when Benson struck the name of Renee and her two children from his will. He also replaced his estranged granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc, as his successor and eventually transferred control of his estate to his wife, Gayle.
On February 16, 2018, 90-year-old Tom Benson, who was suffering from influenza, was admitted to the Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, Louisiana. He died almost a month later in the same facility at Ochsner Medical Center.
After his death, his widow Gayle Benson took over ownership of his estate. Through the inheritance of two professional sports franchises, the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, Ms. Benson became the first woman to be the principal owner of both an NFL and NBA franchise.