In Memoriam of Tom Benson
Tom Benson’s support for local businesses has led to a stronger community and legacy that will live on for generations to come
Tom Benson began his business career as a car salesman — and when presented with the challenge of a poorly performing dealership in San Antonio, he used his homegrown education from Loyola University New Orleans to turn the dealership around. It became Tom Benson Chevrolet, his first fully-owned car dealership, but certainly not his last. His businesses grew from car dealerships to banks and, finally, to the Saints and Pelicans organizations.
A common thread through all of Mr. Benson’s businesses was his dedication to the communities his businesses called home, according to Mike Stanfield, Senior Vice President of Sales for the Saints and the Pelicans and Jefferson Chamber Board Member.
“It’s part of what Mr. Benson did and part of what he knew. When you go back to Katrina, where Mr. Benson was the business leader who brought the Saints back, who bought the Pelicans, he wanted to keep that business here,” Stanfield said, also saying that this is a philosophy the Chamber shares. “We have a lot of businesses here now that we’re involved with, and what we’re trying to do, what he believed in, was in growing everyone together as part of the economy.”
“Because we’re a regional organization, we want to help people get more businesses involved here. Some of that is with the Chamber of Commerce event we host here in the practice facility,” said Stanfield, referring to the Jefferson Chamber Gala, held annually at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, on the turf of the New Orleans Saints Indoor Training Field.
The Gala, with this year following a Casino Royale theme to celebrate the Chamber’s 21st anniversary, raises money to support Chamber efforts in public policy, advocacy and quality of life initiatives in the Parish.
Ochsner has been another key player in Mr. Benson’s role within the city. Tom and Gayle’s philanthropic involvement with the health system, a fixture of the New Orleans area, has also been a notable part of the legacy of bettering the community he sought to establish.
“Tom Benson was a man of principle, powerful role model and voice for our community and for Ochsner Health System,” said Warner Thomas, President and CEO of Ochsner Health System. “He created a legacy that will endure for generations and will literally help thousands of people live better lives.”
Last November, Tom and Gayle Benson, along with Ochsner Health System, celebrated the official ground-breaking on the multimillion-dollar expansion of the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at Ochsner Medical Center on Jefferson Highway.
The expansion will double the size of the facility at Ochsner Medical Center on Jefferson Highway, creating hundreds of jobs and opening beds and introducing innovative healthcare programs for an additional several thousand residents per year in Jefferson Parish and surrounding areas.
“Tom Benson wanted local people to be able to stay local and receive game-changing treatments. That is our commitment, and it will now become a piece of his legacy,” said Thomas.
A commitment to Louisianians being able to stay in their community was one that Mr. Benson sought to further with every one of his enterprises, entrepreneurial and philanthropic, and one that his organizations continue to uphold today, which has, in turn, boosted the businesses and the surrounding community’s economy.
“Here in the facility, everybody eats in the cafeteria, doesn’t matter if you’re Drew Brees or someone brand new to the organization. It was very important to Mr. Benson and is very important to us, and to Mrs. Benson that we keep it as that one community organization. We have a lot of pride in carrying on his legacy here, and it’s very evident that everybody here has bought into the sense of community,” said Stanfield.
The Pelicans, the Saints and Ochsner all expressed interest in continuing to uphold Mr. Benson’s legacy, both in their operations and in their relationship with the Chamber.
“The support of remarkable individuals like Mr. Benson and community organizations like the Jefferson Chamber gives our organization the ability to create jobs and transform the lives of the people we serve,” said Thomas. “By working together and creating solutions to the challenges facing our families and neighbors, we’re able to create a stronger, healthier community for generations to come.”
“We want more business, better business, here in the city,” adds Stanfield. “We want to partner with the best, and we feel like the Jefferson Chamber is the best around.” •