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Mr Tom Benson has Passed away

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New Orleans Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson passes away at age 90

Posted 12 minutes ago


Mr. Benson was hospitalized with the flu Feb. 16

Tom Benson, 90, passed away peacefully Thursday, March 15 at Ochsner Medical Center with his wife Gayle Marie Benson at his side. Mr. Benson was hospitalized with the flu Feb. 16.

Thomas Milton Benson, Jr. was born on July 12, 1927 in New Orleans to Thomas Milton Benson Sr. and Carmelite Marie Pintado Benson. Raised in the 7th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, Mr. Benson graduated from St. Aloysius High School (now Brother Martin)  in 1944. Following his high school graduation, he enrolled at Loyola University New Orleans to study business and accounting. He interrupted his education to enlist in the U.S. Navy, where he was assigned to the USS South Dakota. Upon the conclusion of World War II, Mr. Benson returned home to New Orleans and continued his business administration studies.

In 1948, he went to work as a bookkeeper for the Cathey Chevrolet Co. in New Orleans and by 1956, at age 29, Mr. Benson was on his way to manage a Chevrolet dealership as a junior partner. Six years later, he took full control of the company and established a multi-dealership organization with outlets throughout the New Orleans area and South Texas. In 1972, Mr. Benson entered the banking business and eventually took his banking network public as Benson Financial World.

In 1985, Mr. Benson purchased the New Orleans Saints after learning that the NFL franchise was on the verge of being sold to parties interested in relocating the team. Mr. Benson purchased the Saints on May, 31, 1985. In 1987, the team posted its first winning season and advanced to the playoffs for the first time. Since being purchased by Mr. Benson in 1985, the Saints have earned 11 playoff berths, six division titles and captured Super Bowl XLIV in 2009, building a foundation for continued success, on and off the field. Known among his peers in the NFL as an important leader, Benson’s input on the league level was instrumental, serving as chairman of the league Finance Committee for three separate stints. He also played a major role in New Orleans become a Super Bowl host five times since his purchase of the team.

In 2012, Mr. Benson purchased the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans Hornets franchise from the NBA, which the following season, he rebranded and had renamed the New Orleans Pelicans.

Through his sports teams, business interests and the Gayle and Tom Benson Foundation, Mr. Benson was dedicated to assisting a myriad of charitable, faith-based and educational causes in the New Orleans and South Texas communities. Under Mr. Benson’s direction his businesses and sports teams annually have put millions of dollars back into the community in financial support, in-kind donations, charitable appearances and the donations of goods and services. Over 50 deserving charitable organizations, foundations and agencies have annually received financial support from Mr. Benson.

Details regarding public visitation and funeral will be forthcoming.

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A sad day in Saints history for sure, Mr. Benson was the epitome of class and distinction in all of his endeavors. His purchase of the new Orleans Saints was a seminal moment in Saints history, he brought stability to the franchise and skillfully built a respected franchise that, by all standards in the NFL, is one of the elite organizations within the league. Given the small market base, he created a fan friendly franchise that is envied by other fans and gave NOLA a team to be proud of that is woven into the fabric of the city itself.

Godspeed Mr. Benson, you left one hell of a legacy....

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Tom Benson, who kept Saints and Pelicans in New Orleans, dies at 90

  • triplett_mike.png&w=160&h=160&scale=crop
    Mike TriplettESPN Staff Writer

Tom Benson, owner of the NFL's New Orleans Saints and NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, died Thursday in New Orleans with his wife at his side, the teams announced. He was 90.

Benson was one of only three owners of both an NFL and NBA franchise at the time of his death. He was widely credited with keeping both teams in his native New Orleans when their futures were in doubt, first when he purchased the Saints in 1985, and then when he purchased the former New Orleans Hornets in 2012.

Benson had been hospitalized since Feb. 16 in New Orleans with flu-like symptoms.


Under Tom Benson's ownership, the Saints made 11 trips to the postseason, including a Super Bowl after the 2009 season. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

"Tom Benson's contributions to New Orleans and the National Football League were legendary," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

"He purchased a team that had never had a winning season; by the third year of his ownership, the Saints were in the playoffs. Tom kept the Saints together through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and his decision to bring the team back to New Orleans gave the entire region hope and confidence that they would recover. The Saints rewarded their fans with tremendous football and a Super Bowl championship.

"Within the NFL, he was a true leader among NFL owners. ... I know that the entire NFL family joins me in extending our most heartfelt condolences to Gayle Benson and the entire Saints organization."

Benson underwent triple-bypass heart surgery in April 2001 and remained in good health until 2014, when he underwent two arthroscopic knee procedures and suffered complications that led to a long recovery.

Benson's plan was to turn the franchises over to his wife of the past 13 years, Gayle Benson, after he ousted his daughter and grandchildren as heirs during a bitter legal feud that lasted nearly two years. The dispute ended with a private settlement in February 2017. It remains unclear whether Gayle Benson still needs approval from both sports leagues before ownership can formally change hands. She is a New Orleans native who is expected to keep both teams in New Orleans long-term.

Longtime executives Dennis Lauscha and Mickey Loomis are expected to maintain key roles in running the teams. Lauscha is the president of both franchises. Loomis, whose primary role is general manager and executive vice president of the Saints, also serves as an executive vice president for the Pelicans.

Benson, who made his fortune in the automobile and banking industries in New Orleans and San Antonio, was estimated to be worth $2.8 billion in 2017 by Forbes, which ranked him and his family as the richest in Louisiana.

The Saints never had a winning season before Benson took over. Since then, they've made 11 trips to the postseason, including a Super Bowl championship after the 2009 season, leading to many of the owner's memorable "Benson Boogie" second-line victory dances on the field.

Benson has also been lauded for his role in helping the NFL grow during his 33 years of ownership. He spent many of those years on the league's finance committee, serving as chairman three times.

His ownership years weren't always rosy, though. Benson's popularity with the fan base took a major hit in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when he entertained the possibility of moving the team to San Antonio. Though Benson later insisted the reports of him considering relocation were blown out of proportion, he allowed that uncertainty to fester during an emotional time for the community.

However, with the NFL's urging, the Saints returned home in January 2006, and Benson displayed a renewed commitment to his hometown from that point on.

The Saints began thriving after Benson hired coach Sean Payton that year and the Saints added quarterback Drew Breesand running back Reggie Bush, among others. The people of New Orleans rallied that year to sell out the Superdome for the first time, and now there's an annual waiting list of more than 70,000 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (a lucrative naming-rights deal that both Tom and Gayle Benson helped arrange).

"Well, once he got moving, he didn't stop," former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said of Benson's turnaround. "With Drew Brees and Sean Payton and the team, it went to the NBA team, it went to (ownership of other local businesses). So it's quite a remarkable story of success."

The Saints' infamous "bounty scandal" also took place under Benson's watch, with Payton, Loomis and others receiving unprecedented suspensions for allegedly overseeing a pay-for-injury scheme. Benson stuck by his team leaders during a controversial debate over whether the punishments were warranted - which also helped restore his popularity among the fans.

Benson added the Pelicans to his portfolio when he purchased the then-Hornets from the NBA in 2012 to prevent out-of-town ownership from swooping in and possibly relocating the team. He then renamed the team to Pelicans, after the state bird and former New Orleans minor league baseball team.

The Pelicans have made only one playoff appearance (2015) during Benson's ownership tenure. However, they are currently thriving as a 5th-place seed in the Western Conference, led by one of the game's top players in Anthony Davis.

Benson's commitment to New Orleans also spread beyond his teams.

He and Gayle started GMB Racing, which produced two Kentucky Derby entrants in 2016. They also invested in local companies like Dixie Beer, and TV and film production companies. And they helped bring the Super Bowl back to New Orleans in 2013, an economic windfall for the city.

The Bensons were also generous in their charitable efforts throughout New Orleans, the Gulf South region, San Antonio and the Catholic Church community, among others. In 2014, Benson pledged $11 million to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the largest donation by an individual in the Hall's history.

Benson is one of six NFL owners who have died since October 2013, along with the Tennessee Titans' Bud Adams, the Detroit Lions' William Clay Ford, the Buffalo Bills' Ralph Wilson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Malcolm Glazer and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Dan Rooney.

Details regarding public visitation and funeral will be forthcoming.

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