ST. ALBANS, WV (AP) The letters never stop.
They come by the dozens, day after day, though it has been a year since Andrew “Jack” Whittaker learned he held history’s most profitable lottery ticket.
Requests, pleas, tales to break your heart: thousands of them, enough to fill hip-high filing cabinets that line three conference-room walls in Whittaker’s new office.
“I can’t even read them,” Whittaker said. “I wouldn’t have any money left if I did.”
The visitors keep coming, too. Two to four pilgrims a day — from as far away as Washington and Idaho — bringing tales of woe to the Scott Depot house Whittaker still owns, ringing the bell that’s still answered by his wife, Jewell.
Tell the world you have $113 million, and that you’re willing to give part of it away, and the world responds.
“If I had to do it all over, I’d be more secluded about it,” Whittaker said. “I’d do the same things, but I’d be a little more quiet.”
In many ways Whittaker is the same unpretentious, no-nonsense, cowboy-hat wearing water and sewer contractor who had built a million-dollar business before last Dec. 25, when one of his 115 $1 Powerball tickets paid $315 million.
Whittaker opted for a one-time, after-tax payout from the Multi-State Lottery Association of $113 million, the largest undivided lottery prize ever.
Whittaker brought his wife, daughter and granddaughter to a state Lottery Commission press conference, then did a giddy round of national interviews in which he said he would tithe a tenth of his winnings to his church and start a foundation to help poor West Virginians.
Clearly Whittaker enjoyed his sudden fame, and his natural openness meant he would hardly have considered lying low.
A year later, the openness is overlaid with wariness.
Security guards now watch his home and office, and recently an assistant videotaped and audiotaped a press interview in which he said he regretted the toll fame has taken on his family.
Whittaker said he and his daughter, Ginger, were used to dealing with the public and so haven’t been traumatized by the notoriety (“I’m not bashful; I can tell people where to go but fast”).
But Jewell and Ginger’s daughter, Brandi, are another story.
“There should be a book to tell you how to handle it when people get thrown into the limelight,” he said. “My wife swears she’s going to write it … People aggravate her to death asking for money.”
Brandi has lost almost all of her friends, Whittaker said.
“They want her for her money and not for her good personality,” he said. “She’s the most bitter 16-year-old I know. She doesn’t communicate with almost anybody but me. I’m working on it, though.”
The Whittakers’ situation is not unique.
Lottery winners often struggle to handle newfound wealth and fame, psychologists say, and many become tied up in lawsuits or estranged from family and friends. One study claimed that instant millionaires have approximately the same level of happiness as recent accident victims.
For his part, Whittaker has brought some unwanted attention upon himself.
During a late-night July foray to a Cross Lanes strip club, Whittaker opened a briefcase filled with $545,000 in cash and cashier’s checks before a club employee, then was drugged and had the briefcase stolen, police said.
All the money was recovered, and two club employees were arrested. But the incident flashed a light on Whittaker’s habits, which police at the time said included frequent strip clubs visits and high-stakes gambling at a Nitro dog track and gaming center.
Whittaker declined to talk about the incident or other parts of his life he deemed private. He said he doesn’t go to the track much these days since he dislikes all the attention.
“I do take off my hat, but I could have a ski mask on and they’d still recognize me,” he said.
Unlike other lottery winners, Whittaker was used to handling cash and seems unlikely to end in bankruptcy court. He said he has spent approximately $45 million in the past year, much of it buying dozens of properties for industrial development in Raleigh and Putnam counties and in Ohio.
“I haven’t bought nothing that’s not worth more than what I paid for it,” he said.
His contracting company, Diversified Enterprise, has expanded from $15 million in annual contracts to $35 million. Whittaker said profits are down since he’s boosted his employee base from approximately 115 to, at peak construction season, 370.
Approximately $14 million has been spent on charity work, almost half of it through the Jack Whittaker Foundation, he said. The three-employee nonprofit aims to help West Virginians find jobs, buy food or receive an education. The benefits are only for West Virginians.
Whittaker said the foundation has probably helped approximately 900 West Virginia families, many of whom were checked out by private investigators before receiving aid.
More than $7 million has been provided to three Church of God pastors, in Hurricane and Hinton in West Virginia and one in Torrance, CA. The pastors are overseeing new church buildings and other mission programs, Whittaker said.
Whittaker spends a lot of time thinking about taxes these days and has a litany of complaints about how hard the IRS makes it to give away money.
One goal he has not achieved: spending more time with his family. The man who used to work 14-hour days is busier than ever.
“If they want quality time with me, they have to get up earlier or go to bed a lot later,” he said. “I was hoping I could start taking naps in the afternoon, but that hasn’t happened yet.”