With Tom Benson getting laid to rest today in the city he cherished, let’s re-examine some concerns voiced shortly after his death.
- “Owner Tom Benson’s death leaves the Pelicans’ future in New Orleans in question” - Washington Post
- “The Pelicans are staying in New Orleans, but for how long?” - SB Nation
- “Pelicans future could be in jeopardy with Tom Benson’s passing” - 247 Sports
- “New Orleans Saints, Pelicans ownership in flux after Tom Benson’s death” - The Times Picayune
As the life of one of New Orleans’ most benevolent and controversial men becomes a chapter in this city’s rich and vibrant history, a change in the current of its young and thriving sports franchises is altered forever with it. How will these two professional organizations move forward?
In 2005 fans prayed for guidance, and got it in the form of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. In 2010, the New Orleans basketball faithful watched on helplessly, and humiliated, as our newfound franchise came under the control of NBA Commissioner, David Stern.
However, in each frightening occasion, the city of New Orleans and its relationship to each franchise only grew. No one outside of the levees of this city can truly understand the fear we went through in those instances, and the relief that followed suit.
So, why should we be worried now?
Gayle Marie LaJaunie Bird was raised on the Westbank, specifically Algiers. She graduated from Martin Behrman High School in 1966, went on to manage a jewelry store, and then entered the realm of interior design, specifically aiming at restoring, redesigning, and renovating hotels and historic homes.
Today, Mrs Benson holds a position on the Tulane Board of Trustees, is a member of the Audubon Commission and a museum trustee to the New Orleans Museum of Art. According to her biography, she ”has utilized her passion for design to support the arts in New Orleans.”
Mrs. Gayle Benson has given her talent and her heart to this city long before she even married Tom Benson. In fact, the two met inside the historic St. Louis Cathedral, where she approached him in an effort to raise money for the church.
Since their marriage in 2004, you were hard pressed to find Gayle anywhere but at her husbands’s side, attending every game, team and league meetings, as well as helping to build upon the images of the franchises by renaming the Superdome, the New Orleans Arena, the Hornets, and even investing in local businesses like Dixie Beer. With her husband hospitalized, Gayle even sat front row alongside Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis during Zach Strief’s emotional retirement.
Of course, Gayle has no sole experience owning a billion dollar organization in both the NFL and NBA. In fact, she is one of three controlling investors in both associations, joining Paul Allen (Seahawks, Blazers), and Stan Kroenke (Rams, Nuggets). But unlike these owners, Gayle didn’t step into the ownership box for the first time upon her first day as controlling owner. In fact, she’s been preparing for this transition for over 13 years, and officially for three.
Moreover, Mrs. Gayle Benson won’t be alone. Joined at the hip by trusted advisors, Dennis Lauscha and Mickey Loomis, President and Executive Vice President to the Saints and Pelicans, Mrs. Benson will have two trusted and proven lieutenants with her every step of the way.
”This has been a very, very busy week, and she’s been our leader,” Lauscha said. “And she’s rock solid and she’s there. I’m proud to be working with her ... and Mr. Benson, I know, would be proud of her, too.”
If you need proof that it’s business as usual on Airline Drive, look to the New Orleans Saints stunning splash into free agency this past week. The Saints responded to their 12-6 season by taking opening weekend by storm with the re-signing of Hall of Famer Drew Brees, Alex Okafor, and the acquisitions of Demario Davis, Patrick Robinson, Tom Savage, and Jermon Bushrod.
“I think we’re on rock-solid footing,” Lauscha said. “To be honest, you have a person who owns the team who’s from New Orleans, who believes in New Orleans, believes in the people of New Orleans. I could not even fathom those two teams not being here in New Orleans now that she’s the owner.
“I’m the president of the company, is from New Orleans. I couldn’t fathom these two teams not being in New Orleans. Again, Mr. Benson could never fathom that. Most of the executive staff are from New Orleans. We believe that these franchises should be in New Orleans, and to be quite honest with you, we’ve been pretty darn successful.”
Gayle has already hit the ground running and making good on her promise to continue Tom Benson’s dream of delivering a championship to not one, but both franchises.
To his very last day, Tom Benson’s greatest hope was to bring more championships to our fans. I want you to know we are more committed than ever to make his hopes a reality. We will never forget his belief in what truly powers our teams our fans. I would like to assure you that we planned carefully for this day and, while my husband could never be replaced, I am blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful leadership team and staff and we will move forward successfully together.
So if you’re looking for a story in this day and age, why not focus on the strength of this inspiring woman?
- Mrs. Benson is not just a wife, she is a force that has been pushing New Orleans to greater heights at local churches, businesses and museums, to name a few.
- She is just the fourth woman to own an NFL and NBA franchise, and the first to own both.
- She spent the week following her beloved husband’s funeral by spending hours with fans, in offices, and is already scheduled for her first annual league meeting, having been safely approved as the rightful owner to both the New Orleans Saints, as well as the New Orleans Pelicans.
So, what does New Orleans have in Mrs. Gayle Benson?
A bright future.