Mega Millions!

Published 11:27 am Thursday, October 31, 2013

RICHMOND — Some Halloween treat.

Retired Cumberland resident Lewis Howard was handed a mega-million dollar check Thursday morning in Richmond from Virginia Lottery Executive Director Paula Otto.

Sweet winnings and no trick about it at all.

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The former HVAC technician kept his cool throughout his Mega Millions lottery-winning experience since the May 17 drawing more than five months ago that produced two winning tickets and a split of the nationwide $198 million jackpot with a New Jersey resident.

That would be $99 million a piece.

“I thought, ‘Okay, so I have all six numbers,’” Howard said in a lottery press release. “I really wasn’t that excited.”

He received the check with less than two weeks to spare before the deadline for claiming the prize would have expired.

During the check presentation ceremony Thursday, Howard credited his wife for reminding him the deadline was fast approaching.

No amount of knocking on the lottery’s door or ringing its doorbell would have let him step inside the Mega Millions prize after November 13, when it would have become a ghostly apparition.

But Howard, who has lived in Cumberland for 10 years, won’t be haunted, and there are more than 73 million reasons why.

Seventy-three million and one, counting his wife.

Howard, who purchased the ticket at the Food Lion in Farmville, had the option of taking his full share of the jackpot split in 30 yearly payments but opted for the one-time cash option of $73.3 million before taxes, the lottery explained.

Nobody should expect the check he received on Halloween to mask or costume the inner man, who is determined to remain grounded, which is fitting for a retired HVAC technician.

“I’m just a normal person, just a regular guy. That’s all I am,” Howard said Thursday in Richmond. “There’s not many things that excite me. You know, I try to do the right thing and I try to treat people the way I want to be treated. So basically that’s it.”

For more than five months, Farmville area folks have been wondering who won the Mega Millions prize.

So close to the vest did Howard keep the big news—only telling his wife—that not even his two grown children knew.

Locally, there was even speculation, by those in the community pondering how someone could win a $99 million prize and not rush out to grab the winnings with shouts of Eureka, that the winning ticket might have been lost, thrown away, accidentally put through the washing machine, still inside the pocket in a pair of pants.

Or, like an overdue homework assignment, eaten by the dog.

Not so.

The winner was calmly getting his ducks in a row.

Howard explained to lottery officials that he waited so long to come forward and claim the prize so he could make the wisest possible decisions about his lottery bonanza.

“We commend Mr. Howard for taking his time to assemble a team of financial and legal advisors,” Otto said in the press release. “This is Virginia’s seventh Mega Millions jackpot win, and the fifth-largest prize ever awarded by the Virginia Lottery.”

The father of two grown children, and grandfather of three youngsters, literally had an itch to play the Mega Millions back in May, according to the lottery.

Howard was sitting at home watching TV when his right hand began itching and he remembered his mother telling him an itching hand meant money was coming.

Was it ever.

But he did nothing rash in response to that itch.

His response was practical.

Acting on the remembered wisdom of his mother, Howard drove to Farmville and bought $5 of Mega Millions tickets for the May 17 drawing.

One of those five tickets matched all six numbers to win the jackpot, the lottery announced.

The winning numbers were 11-15-35-43-49 and the Mega Ball number was 41.

Howard, the lottery reports, selected his numbers at random.

Nor was he the only local winner that day. For selling the winning ticket, the Food Lion received a bonus of $50,000.

Described by the lottery as a private man who enjoys reading and cooking, Howard sees, perhaps, a cruise on his life’s horizon and, for certain, he’ll keep playing the lottery.

“It’s my hobby,” he told the lottery.

And a hobby he can afford to play as much as he likes.

In fact, Howard said Thursday that he played the lottery Wednesday night but hadn’t checked his numbers yet.

Cruise or not, Howard said on Thursday in Richmond, “my ship came in. It came in full sail. It came on in.”

(Ilsa Loeser, covering the event in Richmond, contributed quotes from Thursday’s ceremony for this story)