Tom Benson: A man of faith and philanthropy

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Archbishop Gregory Aymond's relationship with Tom Benson spanned more than two decades: As a spiritual advisor and friend.

The archbishop described Benson as a man centered in faith.

Tom Benson was a man of few words but his presence was larger than life.

"In many ways, it is hard to put in words," says Aymond. "He has a public persona. However, inside the real Tom is different."

Archbishop Gregory Aymond knew Tom Benson behind the headlines.

"There's another persona that exists that is a quiet man. A man of faith," says Aymond. "He and I have had many, many talks. A lot of times it's what's going on in the world morally. He really is befuddled by some of the things going on in the world today."

The Archbishop was by Tom and Gayle Benson's side at many events over the years.

"Even before he and Gayle met, I knew them separately," says Aymond. "I knew Gayle from the Cathedral and Tom from the Saints. So, I've known them for more than 20 years."

"For the twinkle to come in his eye there are three things. I genuinely believe he wants to please God. I genuinely believe he has given his heart to Gayle and that's a close relationship and he wants to please her. Make her proud. And the third is he does have a drive for success."

But in every success, the Archbishop says Tom Benson put faith first.

Before the Superbowl win, there was a mass. Aymond says that was nothing unusual for Benson.

"Every game that the Saints have, every game, and he's been doing this many, many years, there's a mass before the game. For mostly staff executives and their friends and other people he would invite. That's a symbol of his faith and what he believes in."

"He feels he owes the church a lot because formation as a Christian happened at Our Lady Star of the Sea," says Aymond. "He often tells the story of sitting on the corner wishing he could go to St. Aloycious High School and one of the brothers said, 'Who are you and why are you sitting here?' And he said, 'I'm Tommy Benson. I wish I could go to school here.' And bother said, 'Why didn't you?' 'My family couldn't afford it. My family could not afford it.' So, they gave him a scholarship which he will never, never forget. He's told me that story. If he's told me once, he's told me 50 times. It touched him that someone was that generous to him."

In 2012, the Bensons donated $10 million to Brother Martin, formerly his alma mater St. Aloycious.

Benson drew his strength from God and the church in a life Aymond says was not always easy.

"Tom has borne the cross loss in a way that most people have not and he very rarely talks about the pain of that of having bury two wives, his children, his brothers. And when you look at all the people he's lost, I should say brothers. All the people he's lost, he's borne the pain of loss that not too many people have."

And it was in the church he found his life's partner.

"He met Gayle in the Cathedral. That's where they met. He grew up here. He understands our culture. Not only the culture of the city but what the Catholic Church has done with and for the city."

Despite his influence, Aymond says Benson was still a humble man.

"The bronze statue in Champion Square. He was flabbergasted and said, 'Why is this?' I remember that day and I remember when he found out about it he was embarrassed. Grateful, very grateful, but embarrassed that they would make so much commotion over him. Or he'll be out of town and meet an underprivileged person and then they show up to the game. I say, 'Tom, who is this person?' He'll say, 'I met them somewhere and felt the same sense of connection and knew they needed someone to tell them they were worthwhile so they come to the game.' And that's Tom. It's the quiet unassuming things that he has done that God knows and God will certainly recognize."

When Benson went through a very public battle with family members over his vast estate, Aymond says it was a difficult time that took its toll.

"It was painful for him as we know. All of us know in some way whenever there is family turmoil it hurts a part of the heart nothing else gets to. Certainly for him as well. That was a very difficult time but he went through it with faith and perseverance. God will take care of this with any challenge he has. He says God will take care of this with trust."

The footprint of good that Benson has left for the community will be a lasting legacy.

"I can't speak for him, but I think Tom would be pleased to know that someone said, or people said, he's a good man. That he knew the Lord and he loved Gayle and the City of New Orleans. And that would be enough. I think that would be enough."

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