Halifax, Va., Couple Wins $26.2 Million

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 21, 1997; Page B01

RICHMOND, Sept. 20—It's a Cinderella story, only Cinderella's a couple.

Cynthia and Sam Brown, a blue-collar couple from the small tobacco-growing county of Halifax, Va., were crowned today as the winners of a $26.2 million lottery jackpot -- the largest prize ever awarded to a single household in the nine years Virginia has had a lottery.

Three-and-a-half weeks after lottery officials announced the winning ticket had been sold at Farmer's Foods in Halifax, the shy couple came forward to claim their prize.

Brown, a seamstress, said she rarely plays the lottery. She bought the winning ticket at 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 27 -- 2 1/2 hours before the drawing -- because she had heard about the jumbo jackpot and because her hand itched. "When your hand itches," she said, "you know you're going to get some money."

She said she realized she might be the winner the next day at work, when folks were talking about how the winning ticket had been sold at Farmer's between 8 and 8:30 p.m.

After clocking out, she went to her car, looked at her tickets (she had bought a second one at a local gas station), and there it was.

"My heart skipped a beat," she said. "I just sat there in a daze for a few minutes."

Then she called her husband. "I asked him, 'How would you feel if I won $26 million?' "

Brown and her husband, who is a welder, will receive an after-tax payment of $892,000 a year for the next 20 years, joining 13 other Halifax households that have an annual income of $150,000 or more. The median household income in Halifax, a county of 30,000 a stone's throw from North Carolina, is about $30,000, according to the 1990 census.

Ever since the jackpot drawing, Halifax residents had been busy guessing who the winner was. The Browns said they enjoyed hearing all the rumors flying around -- reports that a nurse at the hospital had won, or a worker at the local textile mill. "I was having fun, looking and listening, chuckling to myself," Sam Brown said.

The couple said they waited this long to come forward so they could get financial advice. The Browns appear to be in their thirties. They declined to give their ages or their places of employment, or to say how many children they have, explaining that they want to protect their family's privacy.

In Halifax last week, the news that a winner soon would come forward spread like kudzu. People were calling Linda Edmonds, the Farmer's assistant manager who sold the ticket, to ask her who the winner was.

Edmonds said today that she doesn't know Cynthia Brown, but would recognize her face. "I'm very happy for them," she said. "I wish them all the luck in the world. I hope they don't forget me."

What will the new millionaires do with their fortune? They're still thinking about that. Although they are Halifax natives, they haven't ruled out a move.

"Might be Hawaii!" quipped Sam Brown. "Might be Paris!"

But whatever happens, they said, they don't want to let the money disrupt their lives.

"We're just quiet people from out in the county," Sam Brown said. "We know we have some changes ahead, but we don't want to let the money change us too much."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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