Gayle and Tom Benson, the billionaire owner of the New Orleans Saints, has given $20 million to the Ochsner Health System to expand cancer treatment services and research in Louisiana and the surrounding Gulf region. The gift, the largest in Ochsner's history, supports an expansion of the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at Ochsner, established in 2010 with $5 million from the Bensons.
If you're a big NFL fan, you may already have heard of Tom Benson. You may not know that Benson, 88, is the richest person in Louisiana. He's currently worth $2.2 billion, according to Forbes; his holdings include auto dealerships in Louisiana and Texas, as well as New Orleans' NBA team, the Pelicans.
The $20 million gift looks like a high point in the Bensons' philanthropy, but it's not yet clear if it signals an increased commitment to healthcare giving, or to their philanthropy in general.
We haven't reported on Benson or his giving before. Much of Benson's previous philanthropy has gone to schools and universities, several of which have a Catholic affiliation, often for sports facilities. According to Wikipedia, Benson's giving includes gifts to the Central Catholic High School, St. Anthony Catholic School and the University of the Incarnate Word, all in San Antonio, Texas, where Benson moved in 1956 to expand his involvement in auto dealerships. He also donated $8 million to Loyola University in New Orleans, and another $7.5 million to Tulane University in New Orleans, toward construction of Yulman Stadium there.
In November 2014, Benson made an $11 million donation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
People from New Orleans are really from New Orleans, so it's no surprise that the Bensons support a New Orleans-based healthcare system. But as is often the case with wealthy people and their private philanthropy, there's a more personal connection: Benson's son, Robert, died of cancer.
As noted, the Bensons have now given a total of $25 million to Ochsner for the cancer center, but—along with a $5 million to Team Gleason, a New Orleans residence for people with ALS—that appears to represent the bulk of their health-focused giving.
The new $20 million gift will more than double the square footage of the center's oncology clinics, support additional physician specialists, and otherwise enhance the center's treatment and research programs.
"When we first opened the cancer center, we knew that our partnership with Ochsner would allow us to help so many people in our region," said Tom Benson in a press release. "For years, too many of our local and state-wide residents needed to seek cancer care away from home, and we needed to address that. Gayle and I could not be more pleased that so many patients today are receiving world-class cancer treatments right here in our hometown."