RICHMOND, NOV. 26 -- Notice to James Shaffer's boss: Start looking for new help.

Shaffer, 54, of Sterling, quit his job as a telephone company repairman this afternoon in front of a roomful of reporters.

He said the $14.8 million he claimed as the largest individual winner ever in the Virginia Lottery had something to do with it.

"I've been hoping to retire for the past five years," said Shaffer, who worked for Contel. "I guess my boat's come in."

And a rather full boat it is. Shaffer, a bachelor who lives in the blue-collar Loudoun County community near Dulles International Airport, was awarded his first $740,000 payment today --

$562,400 after taxes.

There will be 19 more checks of $565,000 each to follow annually.

Virginia's largest lottery jackpot, $21 million awarded last July, was split three ways. Shaffer gets to keep his pile all to himself, a record booty for one person in the Old Dominion, though not close to the national record set when Sheelah Ryan won $55 million in Florida's lottery two years ago.

Shaffer is not the Washington area's biggest winner in a local lottery, but he came close.

An Army sergeant from Alexandria, Lee Nelson, won $16 million in the District's Lotto America in February 1989.

Shaffer said he bought his winning ticket for last Wednesday's drawing at a 7-Eleven store near his home.

He didn't know he'd won until he went back to the same store Friday to buy 10 more tickets for Saturday's drawing.

He spent the next three days in sleepless excitement -- dialing the lottery's toll-free number to confirm his victory, hiding his winning ticket in a location he still won't disclose, stewing all weekend until the lottery offices reopened this morning.

"I just couldn't get it off my mind," Shaffer said.

"What do you do with a piece of paper worth $15 million?"

But by the time Shaffer picked up his money today, he had calmed down -- almost too much so.

Lottery spokeswoman Paula Otto said Shaffer initially was reluctant to go through with the ritual pose-with-the-check news conference that lottery officials love for the free advertising it gives to the government-run gambling.

Shaffer went through with the session, but without any of the beauty-contest histrionics that often accompany the coronation of new lottery millionaires.

Shaffer dead-panned his way through the predictable questions, shuffling his feet when the interrogation got too personal:

What will he do with the money? It goes in the savings bank for now. "I want to do everything very slowly," he said.

Will he now seek out a more lavish or glamorous lifestyle? "I'm going to try not to," Shaffer said. "I hope not."

Does he expect to stay single after hitting the jackpot and becoming a millionaire? "Yes."

Will he continue to play the lottery? "Yes."

If nothing else, Shaffer's victory shows the virtue of persistence.

Since Virginia started its lottery two years ago, Shaffer has bought 10 tickets for each drawing, always using a number that includes a combination of his birthdate (6/9/36) and three random numbers.

This time, the winning number was 06-09-12-25-32-36.

Virginia voters approved a lottery in November 1987, and drawings started the following September.

Proceeds initially were slated to pay for long-term building projects at universities and other state agencies, but Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D) has diverted the profits to state government's operating budget to help offset a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

The lottery games have taken in about $1.1 billion since their inception, 35 percent of which has gone to the state government.

The rest goes for overhead and prizes.