After marrying in 2004, Mr. and Mrs. Benson worked together to build championship-level NBA and NFL organizations, housed in state-of-the-art facilities at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, Smoothie King Center and Mercedes-Benz Superdome, while making a positive impact in the community away from the basketball court and football field as well.
Immediately upon Mr. and Mrs. Benson’s purchase of the former Hornets franchise from the NBA in 2012, construction began on a state-of-the-art basketball practice facility to house the entire organization together and the franchise would also be rebranded as the Pelicans. Through agreements with the State of Louisiana upon the purchase of the Pelicans, the Smoothie King Center has undergone a complete renovation since the 2012 purchase, featuring a new center-hung HD scoreboard, which debuted in 2015, along with several additional fan upgrades. Through this commitment, NBA All-Star Weekend was awarded to New Orleans in 2014 and 2017, making the city one of just six current NBA markets to host the mid-season event at least three times. Active in league affairs, Mrs. Benson, serves as a member of the NBA’s Labor Relations Committee and also was named the NBA Foundation Board of Directors on October 9. On the court, she oversaw a significant overhaul of the Pelicans organization in 2019 when she hired Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. Through the support of these organizational improvements by Mrs. Benson, combined with New Orleans winning the NBA Draft Lottery and selecting the 2018-19 AP College Player of the Year in Duke forward Zion Williamson with the first overall pick and the 2019 acquisition of forward Brandon Ingram, a 2020 NBA All-Star and winner of the league’s Most Improved Player award, the Pelicans have established a solid foundation for the future.
With the Saints franchise under the guidance of the Bensons, the team has reached new heights since 2006, when they entrusted Executive-Vice President/General Manger Mickey Loomis to hire Sean Payton as head coach and sign unrestricted free agent quarterback Drew Brees. Since those moves, the franchise has reached its highest point of success, posting a 119-85 record over the last 12 years, featuring six playoff berths, four division titles, two NFC Championship appearances and the Super Bowl XLIV title. Off-the-field, the a completely renovated Mercedes-Benz Superdome has been sold-out on a season ticket basis for every campaign since 2006, with a waiting list of over 73,000 people and 122 consecutive sellouts. The club has also positioned itself as a leader in the community, assisting with the recovery from several natural disasters, while also working to enhance the region as a whole.
Community investment and giving back have been hallmarks of the Bensons’ ownership of the Pelicans and Saints, a tradition that will continue under Mrs. Benson’s stewardship as she will look to continue to enrich the New Orleans community through multiple initiatives, including philanthropic work in the health and wellness, education and arts sectors. As dedicated corporate citizens, the Pelicans and Saints annually put millions of dollars back into the community in financial supports, in-kind donation, charitable appearances and donations of goods and services.
Commitment to the health and wellness of the local community are have been at the forefront through multiple gifts that established and upgraded the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center on the main campus of Ochsner Medical Center, the area’s leading health service network of hospitals and clinics. In addition to serving on the Ochsner board, Mrs. Benson has led 100-plus volunteer committee members in hosting the Moonlight and Miracles event the last four years-the organization’s annual gala to benefit the Ochsner Cancer institute. The event has raised over six million dollars annually since its conception to benefit cancer patients in the region.
Supporting the efforts of former Saints safety Steve Gleason and his Team Gleason organization, which helps provide people with ALS and other debilitating conditions an environment where they can live vital and productive lives with meaningful freedom and independence, Mr. and Mrs. Benson committed five million dollars to the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living at the New Orleans St. Margaret’s facility in 2014.
Mrs. Benson is a committed supporter of the area’s educational institutions on all levels, serving on the boards of St. Mary’s Dominican High School, Archbishop Hannan High School, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Tulane University. Mrs. Benson and her late husband also supported numerous local high schools and universities with gifts, including Dominican, Brother Martin High School (formerly St. Aloysius, Tom Benson’s alma mater), Jesuit High School, Stuart Hall School, Loyola University New Orleans, Tulane and Xavier University of Louisiana.
In 2012, the Bensons made two significant gifts to enhance local educational institutions. They established the Brother Nicholas, S.C. Building Endowment to support Brother Martin. They also donated $7.5 million towards the construction of an on-campus football stadium at Tulane, appropriately named “Benson Field”.
A member of the Board of Trustees for the New Orleans Museum of Art, Mrs. Benson served as one of the chairs for NOMA’s Odyssey Ball in 2014, as the event raised over $700,000 – the most in the gala’s history and continues to be a major supporter of the annual event. The funds raised help ensure the museum’s ability to present world-class exhibitions, public programs, and educational initiatives. She also has been active in supporting NOMA project “Art for Art’s Sake”, an annual tradition that promotes art in the City of New Orleans.
In addition to serving on the board of several local educational institutions and NOMA, Mrs. Benson also is a member of the Audubon Commission, which oversees the Audubon Nature Institute and serves on the Mayor Transition Committee of New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell with Dr. Norman Francis and Walter Isaacson.
A long-time advocate of faith-based causes and spirituality, Mrs. Benson has been a longtime trusted and valued member of the local Catholic community. She’s served on Archbishop’s Community Appeal campaigns for four different Archbishops over the course of the past 30 years. She has worked tirelessly with the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Catholic Charities organization and its umbrella agencies that feature nearly 50 programs and three affiliated ministries that deliver health and human services to the poor and vulnerable in the eight civil parishes which the Archdiocese serves, as well as food and nutrition services statewide. Mrs. Benson has also worked closely with St. Louis Cathedral’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program, as well as with the same program at the Holy Name of Jesus Parish. Mrs. Benson’s support of the Church has been recognized on numerous occasions. She has received the Medal of the Order of St. Louis Award for her dedication to the Church. In 2010, she became an Honorary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. In 2012, Mr. and Mrs. Benson received from Pope Benedict XVI the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award-for outstanding service to the Church and the Pontiff, the highest Papal award granted to a lay person.
Mrs. Benson began her professional career in 1968 as a manager for noted New York-based costume jeweler Celebrity Jewelry, overseeing and managing the daily operation of over 40 sales associates. She then branched out into real estate development which allowed her to successfully integrate her passion for interior design with property management. Her first real estate transaction occurred in 1978 when she purchased a home in New Orleans’s Irish Channel and then sold the property eight months later. She would go on to purchase, manage and eventually sell several more properties, primarily in the city’s Uptown district.
In 1975, Mrs. Benson began a 30-year career in the design industry under a business she called Gayle Bird interiors, a business where she achieved tremendous success. Throughout the course of her career she was recognized with numerous professional awards and served as an inaugural member on the Louisiana State Board of Licensing for four years. She directed numerous major design efforts with her clients, including the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, several of the city’s most prestigious hotels, local supermarket chains and automobile dealerships.
In 2000, Mrs. Benson worked with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on renovations to the iconic New Orleans landmark’s third and fourth level public spaces, in addition to renovations on select suites. She also owned and developed a commercial real estate building on the corner of Laura and Octavia Streets, a women’s clothing private enterprise called “Toujours la Ligne” and a designer’s showroom called “Designers Resource” which served as a wholesale location for designers and architects seeking to purchase fabric, wall coverings and accessories. The Men of Fashion Committee recognized Mrs. Benson during her career as one of the “Top Ten Best Dressed Women in New Orleans”.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson first met at mass in St. Louis Cathedral one Monday morning in 2004, a service where she had read a passage. Shortly after, he asked her to attend a New Orleans VooDoo arena football game with him that spring. After they dated for several months, the couple became engaged on September 23, 2004 and were married on October 29. They were married for 13 years and five months when he passed away.
In addition to her ownership of the Pelicans and Saints, Mrs. Benson established GMB Racing Stables in 2014 with an initial purchase of seven colts and hiring three veteran trainers, all with Louisiana ties. In 2016, two of the thoroughbreds, Mo Tom ad Tom’s Ready participated in the Kentucky Derby. Her Lone Sailor horse is slated to run in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. She also serves as the Owner of three local automotive dealerships, Best Chevrolet, Cadillac of New Orleans and Mercedes-Benz of New Orleans and the Dixie Beer brand, which Mr. and Mrs. Benson purchased in 2017.
Mrs. Benson was born in New Orleans and grew up in Old Algiers. She began her education in Catholic schools and in 1966 graduated from Martin Behrman High School.