For two weeks, residents of the small town of Zephyrhills wondered who among them had won the Florida lottery. Now they know that 84-year-old Gloria MacKenzie was the big winner. She chose to receive her winnings in a lump-sum payment, worth a pre-tax $370.8 million. The mother of four, grandmother and great-grandmother did not speak to reporters, but released a statement that she was “grateful for this blessing of winning.”
She met her husband just after World War II; the couple retired from northern Maine to Florida more than a decade ago. He died in 2005, and she’s been living in a small home with a sheet-metal roof and an old TV antenna. Now, after taxes, she will receive about $270 million.
If she uses the money wisely, she’ll be an exception to the rule. The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that as many as 70 percent of Americans who experience a sudden windfall lose that money within a few years.
For example, one couple won $2.76 million; their marriage ended a few years later, a fire gutted their house, and every penny of their fortune was gone. A man who won $1.9 million spent it all and took a job at McDonald’s flipping burgers. Another man won $16.2 million, but filed for bankruptcy within a year and now lives on food stamps. Here’s the worst story I found: A woman won $5 million, but when her husband learned that she gave $2 million to a secret child she’d had with another man, he poisoned her with painkillers. He was found guilty of manslaughter.
Here’s the part of MacKenzie’s story that interests me most: Mindy Crandell was in line with her daughter, waiting to purchase lottery tickets on May 18. She allowed Mrs. MacKenzie to go in front of her. Family and friends began teasing her that the lady she allowed to cut in line would win the mega jackpot. She wasn’t worried: “No one is going to win from little Zephyrhills,” she said at the time.
Crandell holds no ill-will toward Mrs. MacKenzie and hopes the money “truly blesses her family.” She also hopes her daughters have learned a lesson: “It could have been us, but things happen. Sometimes it’s better to be patient than right. I knew we were teaching our daughter the right thing.” Her daughter agrees: “Being polite is better than being rich.”
God warns us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). The next time you must choose between financial gain and personal integrity, remember: Money is temporary, but character is eternal.