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
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
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
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