More Than Money
Issue #29

Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“Winning Big in the Lottery”

The night before I won eight million dollars in a lottery, my wife and I dreamed together about what we would do if we won. She teaches in an inner city school and she wanted to set up scholarships to help kids get into higher education. My interest was in supporting our community college and children's mental health issues.

So when we actually won, we right away decided we'd share it with our family and our community. Thinking our example would stimulate others to give, we decided to say publicly, "We won this money and we're sharing a lot of it." Every year, we give away $140,000 (about half of our after-tax winnings check). Eighty-thousand goes in $10,000 checks to each of our eight children, $10,000 goes to our grandchildren, and $50,000 to our community. Of the portion we give to the community, my wife and I each give $25,000 to the causes we dreamed of supporting before we won.

I don't regret being public about it, although we did get a lot of publicity, including front-page coverage in the Seattle newspapers. We received a fair number of phone calls, but nowhere near what we expected--probably not more than forty (besides congratulatory calls from friends). We made it very clear in interviews that we already had planned exactly how much we were giving and to whom. That made it much easier to handle the calls we got from people asking for money. People accept that when you tell them.

I know our decision to be public about our giving stimulated others to give, too. Here's a minor example, but an important one to me: Some of the money I give to our community college goes to awards for faculty and staff. A faculty member who received an award wrote me to say that when he had $500 left over from it, he decided he would follow my example--so he gave the money to a cause he cared about. It's a really good feeling to hear things like that.

Money doesn't change everything, but it does change some things, both positive and negative. For me, the real joy of it is that it has provided a security blanket for our whole family. My children have been able to get mortgages and buy houses, and we have been able to fund their education. That kind of security blesses a family. At the same time, we require our children to treat the money carefully and see that it goes toward their futures. So we sit down with them every year and talk about what they're planning to do with the money.

The biggest change is that people treat me differently than they did before. I haven't changed so much inside, but other people view me differently. Though it's not true of close friends, other people make a big deal about the fact that I'm a lottery winner. I've gotten used to it now, but at first it brought me up short. Whenever I'm introduced in a group, I'm always pointed out as the one who won the lottery. I'd rather be known for what I do in the community. Anybody can win a lottery--it's more important to live a good life and contribute to the community.

People can also be jealous or critical. I'm in my mid-seventies now and retired, but my wife still teaches. She is in her mid-sixties and would not have to work, but she likes to make a contribution in that way. She has been criticized for taking a job away from someone who really needs it. It's also the case that no matter how much we give to the community, people think we never give enough. I don't go to fundraising auctions anymore because people expect me to buy everything in sight.

If I had it to do over again, would I want to win the lottery? Yes--mainly because of the security it gives me. This month I had an unexpectedly large electric bill. For most people on a budget, it would be terrible for them to have a $150 extra cost like that. But it's just so easy for me.

- From a conversation with Pamela Gerloff

To read a more typical response to lottery winnings, see "Cashed Out: Lottery Winner Curtis Sharp Has Seen It All and Spent It All," by Beverly Keel at www.morethanmoney.org/issue29 .


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