NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Family, friends and fans of Saints owner Tom Benson gathered Wednesday to pay their last respects.
A public visitation in his honor started at 10 a.m. at the Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Mourners filed into the chapel on Carrollton Ave. to pay their last respects to Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson.
If there was any doubt about what Benson meant to the people of New Orleans it was cast aside today.
All day long they came. Young and old, rich and poor, all feeling it was important to bid farewell to Saints owner Tom Benson.
Many understood he could've moved the team from the city but didn't. And many believe that decision was crucial for the city's come back after Katrina and the growth its saw since that storm.
"He's a godsend to think back in '85 when he purchased the team we needed somebody to keep them here and he's done that," says mourner Cal Arabie.
"Mr. Benson did so much for the city my wife still works at the dome and we came to pay our respects," says mourner Craig Preston.
The visitation will last until 7 p.m. Wednesday night and will continue Thursday from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Thousands are expected to attend the visitation to remember the full life Benson lived. Several mourners were in line before the doors actually opened. And when the doors did open, Saints fans went marching in a style, singing.
"Tom Benson did so much for New Orleans and the Saints I just had to come out and show my support. He's done so much for New Orleans," said mourner Owen Rhea.
He was born in New Orleans and graduated in 1944 from what is now known as Brother Martin High School. He built his business from the ground up, eventually becoming the richest man in Louisiana.
Most people around the world know him for purchasing the New Orleans Saints in the mid 80s.
He bought The Saints to keep the team from leaving the city. He also kept the team in New Orleans after Katrina.
Just a few years after the hurricane he was able to witness his team win their first Super Bowl.
Six years ago, Benson also bought The Pelicans to keep the team from leaving the city as well.
Players from both teams have been reflecting on Benson's life.
Saints punter Thomas Morstead recalled seeing Benson at practice every day, sitting on a little stool and cheering on his players.
The public is welcome to attend the visitation.
Benson's funeral will be held Friday at the St. Louis Cathedral.
Due to space restrictions, the funeral mass will be for invited guests. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Ochsner Clinic Foundation, Notre Dame Seminary or St. Louis Cathedral are preferred.
The funeral, which is scheduled for noon, is not open to the public but Fox 8 will carry the service on-air and online.