At 6:14 tonight a fantasy came true. In an opulent ballroom here just off a boulevard named Security, a frail, partially blind, white-haired man -- his face beaming and fingers trembling -- accepted a check for $1 million from Maryland State Lottery officials.
As his electrified friends and relatives embraced him, 76-year-old Grayson L. Lucas, a retired welder and blacksmith, faced a crowd of reporters, bright lights and cameras. He proclaimed in a dignified voice, "This will be used to help people. Everyone who is down."
With that, Lucas became the 16th and last winner of Maryland's millionaire lottery, a seven-year-old rags-to-riches tradition that state officials are abandoning because of dwindling ticket sales. The proceedings in a Baltimore suburb marked the end of an era in Maryland in which a human dream of instant wealth could be realized despite 20 million-to-one odds.
In place of the millionaire lottery, state officials are offering a new weekly lottery game in an effort to attract more ticket buyers while promising more winners and prizes. In the new game the most money a player can win is $100,000.
"The millionaire lottery was just wearing itself too thin," said lottery director Marvin Puncke, who admitted some regret over the lottery's demise. "The public seemed to want to spread the wealth around more instead of just letting one person take it all home."
So, as lottery officials resort to other gimmicks and lesser fantasies in an attempt to lure more participants and funds, tonight's drawing symbolized a final hurrah for the Big One.
In one instant, the workaday money problems of an elderly Western Maryland man living on a fixed income were wiped away.
Escorted to the podium by his son, Jack Lucas, a College Park engineer, Lucas declared: "First thing I'm going to do is take all my friends in Cumberland out to dinner. They helped me when I was down and it's time I returned the favor."
Lucas said he played the lottery regularly, spending an average of $6 a week for tickets. He said it was a simple 50-cent lottery ticket that landed him here for the final drawing.
He was one of 470-million-dollar contestants who took part in this final celebration of the millionaire lottery here tonight. Earlier, lottery officials awarded seven $5,000 checks, one $10,000 check and one $100,000 check to nine contestants.
Lucas has suffered several heart attacks in the past five years, and his vision has been reduced by 80 percent. His only son admitted he had misgivings about his father's attendance at the drawing because of the tension and excitement.
He's a frail man," Jack said. "But there was nothing in the world that would stop him from coming here. He won't buy cars, he won't go on vacation, and he won't get a new house," Lucas said of his father. "He's been helping the poor for years and nothing will change that."
The drawing was timed to coincide with local television evening news programs, but earlier drawings went swifter than planned and the audience of 1,500 had to wait 20 minutes for the millionaire selection.
George P. Mahoney, the Lottery Commission's chairman, offered to tapdance, but the crowd booed. So he set off instead on a 20-minute rambling soliloquy about old age homes, "dignified black people, the Orioles and the healing powers of liquor before the time was mercifully up.
Lottery director Puncke then extracted a brown envelope from a metal drum and read Lucas's name to the crowd. The white-haired man stood up quickly, 25 rows back in the audience.
Lucas has lived in Cumberland all his life. He went to work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad when he was 16 and stayed with the company as a blacksmith and welder until his retirement in 1967. He has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His wife died of cancer last year.
"I give groceries to the poor and money to the Red Cross," he said. "Now, with God's help, I'll help people even more. I know what poverty is. I starved through the Depression," he said.
Just then Debbie Shipley, an unlucky contestant at the drawing, made her way through the crowd, grabbed Lucas' hand and shook it. "I want you to know sir, that I couldn't have lost to a better person."
"Thank you," Lucas said, smiling toward the woman. "Thank you."
Then Puncke guided a pen into Lucas' hand and asked him to sign a form validating the award. As his family looked on, Lucas peered intently through dark glasses at the form as his hand guided the pen across the dotted line.
"Did I get it all right?" he asked.
"Yes," Puncke said. "You certainly did."