New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson passed away on March 15 at age 90, his family said, ending a life filled with community service, philanthropy, and a love of his native New Orleans.
“Tom Benson will be dearly missed by everyone in our city and state, and by people around the country,” Museum President & CEO Emeritus Nick Mueller said. “As a WWII veteran, he was particularly special to The National WWII Museum. He was also a valued member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees during a critical time when we were making the major transition from The National D-Day Museum to The National WWII Museum. He was one of those ambitious Trustees who was attracted to big ideas and gave confidence to me, our Chairman at the time Boysie Bollinger, and others on the board that the expansion was something we should certainly do—as a way to preserve the story of World War II and the 16 million Americans who served. He always linked the Museum to our beloved Saints, bringing in our Victory Belles to perform at halftime and sending national television networks to produce video spots inside the Museum.”
Born in New Orleans in 1927, Benson served on The National WWII Museum Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2006. In 2015, he and his wife Gayle donated a generous gift to the Museum in order to fund the Midway Theater, an exhibit now featured within the Richard C. Adkerson & Freeport-McMoRan Foundation Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries.
“Mr. Benson was one of the most influential figures in New Orleans and a deeply passionate advocate for our Museum,” Museum President & CEO Stephen Watson said. “As a 17-year-old student at Loyola University New Orleans, he enlisted in the US Navy and served in the Pacific aboard the USS South Dakota in 1945. Service to his country and community remained an important part of his entire life. We are forever grateful for his leadership as a Trustee from 2002 to 2006, and his generous support during the early years of The National D-Day Museum. Please keep the Benson family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Benson boarded the South Dakota in October 1945, just months after the ship shelled the Japanese city of Kamaishi, the first naval bombardment of the Japanese mainland during the war.
“He was a great patriot and a leader with vision,” Mueller said. “We will always miss him.”