Saints fans gear up for Titans _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Gayle Benson waves to the crowd before a preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Friday, Aug. 15, 2014.

With her relatives feuding over who will inherit her grandfather’s NFL and NBA franchises as well as other properties when he dies, Dawn Benson Jones is “brokenhearted” at the allegations other relatives have made about Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson’s mental acuity, she said in a statement.

The statement from Dawn Benson Jones circulated to New Orleans media said she, her four children and her husband “communicate on a regular basis” with Tom Benson and his third wife, Gayle, whom he hopes will inherit his sports teams and other businesses despite once tapping three other family members for that role.

“I have recently spent time with them both, ... (and) I have witnessed nothing that warrants the actions that are currently being (taken),” the statement said. “During this difficult time, I would ask that you pray for the entire family, especially for my grandfather, Tom Benson.”

Dawn Benson Jones is the daughter of a son, Robert Carter Benson, that two-time widower Tom Benson raised with his first wife, Shirley. Robert Benson died at age 37 of cancer, and Shirley passed away in 1980 from lupus after 35 years of marriage.

A second daughter of Tom and Shirley Benson, Jeanne Marie (nicknamed “Tootsie”), died at age 31. Renee Benson is the couple’s third daughter, and she is opposing her father’s attempt to alter a succession plan that would let her and her children — Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc — inherit the Saints and Pelicans upon Tom Benson’s death.

Court records say Tom Benson set up a trust in Dawn’s benefit in 1991, but she has not had any part in running her grandfather’s business empire. In biographical information provided with her statement, Dawn Benson Jones, 44, said she lives in the Austin, Texas, area with her husband of almost 17 years, Chris. She said they have four children — Tyler, 24; Seth, 8; and Sawyer and Sierra, both 6.

Dawn Benson Jones, a graduate of Baylor University, said she has a master’s degree in education. She has taught middle school, worked as an educational software company consultant and runs her own tutoring business. Her husband has worked at Dell Inc. for several years, and their oldest child — also a Baylor graduate — is employed by a bank.

Word first spread on Jan. 21 that Benson wished to change his previous succession plan.

Having been fired as employees of their family businesses, Ryan, Renee and Rita promptly challenged Benson’s new plans in court, filing a civil suit on Jan. 22 that alleged the 87-year-old patriarch was being unduly influenced while in a weakened mental and physical state. Benson countered that decisions regarding his franchises and other properties in his billion-dollar business empire are his alone, and that he reached them after years of seeing that his previously designated heirs were professionally incompetent.

Rita, Renee and Ryan also contend that Benson is improperly attempting to wrest away assets he folded into trusts he had set up for their benefit. Benson argues they’ll still continue to enjoy hundreds of millions dollars no matter what happens, and one of his lawyers — Paul Cordes — on Wednesday said his client has never ceded a single voting share to anyone, giving him the right to reverse course on anything he wants.

In her statement Thursday, Dawn Benson Jones said, “I am brokenhearted that other family members have chosen to publicly harass and humiliate the patriarch of our family — the very person who is responsible for giving them everything they have.”


Note: This post was updated since it was first published to add information.