A Family That Gambled On Dreams Together

Lonnie Smith, 67, was working as a janitor when he heard that his wife's ticket had won the lottery. Smith had been employed by the same Phoenix company for more than thirty years.

The lottery ticket which his wife played was worth $5.8 million.
"Will you retire?" I asked.
"I already did," Smith said. "I retired as soon as they told us we had the right numbers."

Smith grinned. It was as though he was contemplating this private joke, one the rest of us knew nothing about.

But we were all in on it, too. For a couple of days last week, everyone was obsessed with lottery fever. There were long lines in all the places where lottery tickets are sold.

Most people bought the tickets and took their chances on the numbers. But Smith and his wife, Gertrude, and the rest of his family picked their own numbers.

They had been picking their own numbers for years. Anything that came to mind. They were a family that gambled on dreams together. They regularly played the dog races, which is, of course, nothing else but picking numbers. So why not pick their own lottery numbers?

And so they bought not one ticket, but two with this same set of numbers and, of course, both of them won. So all five members of the family come away with a total of more than $10 million.

And now they were sitting here at this press conference in the lottery offices. They had been presented with two checks totaling nearly $600,000, which will be their yearly payoff for the next twenty years.

Lonnie Smith will be 86 when the payments stop.
"Will you buy a car?" "Might do that," he said.
There are five family members who must find a way to share these yearly checks for the next twenty years.

The mother and stepfather are retired. That leaves three who are in the prime of their lives and have life expectancies of close to forty more years.

Lamich Casey had worked building floors, driving his 1973 Ford F-250 all over the western part of the country, looking for jobs.

"Will you buy a new car?" He smiled.
"Not a car," he said. "I don't have any use for a car in my line of work. I might buy a truck, though." He said he might start his own flooring business now and give jobs to his friends.

His sister, Pamela Kemp, 26, had worked as a clerk-typist for the Department of Economic Security.

"Will you continue working for DES?" she was asked.
"I've quit that job," she said. "I'm going to pursue my dream now. I want to become an international model." Tommie Casey had worked with his sister Pamela at DES. He was an eligibility interviewer. Now he's going to invest in his own business.

All five drove down to the lottery office together in a mid-1970s Caddy with a paint job long flattened out by the Arizona sun. The vinyl top was peeling.

Despite the efforts of a dozen media people, there really was not much to ask the winners about their money. They were headed on a journey which might take some strange turns.

Lonnie Smith, at just three years short of seventy, had been around long enough to know the things life can hand out.

He came to Arizona decades ago, trying to get away from a small town in Oklahoma and its extremes of heat and cold. He had worked for one company here most of his adult life.

At the end, he had been a janitor because the work was easier on him physically. And now, suddenly, he was a millionaire. He could go anyplace he wanted and buy just about anything he desired. It was a tremendous challenge.

Lonnie Smith smiled.
"First, let's go out and get something to eat," he said.

"I retired as soon as they told us we had the right numbers."

"I'm going to pursue my dream now. I want to become an international model."

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Tom Fitzpatrick