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Record powerball lottery winner reflects on sad life

Jack WhittakerJack Whittaker: Record powerball lottery winner reflects on sad life
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In his darkest moments, Jack Whittaker has sometimes wondered if winning the nearly $315 million Powerball game was really worth it.

The jackpot that was the stuff of dreams turned into a nightmare: His wife left him and his drug-addicted granddaughter — his protege and heir — died. He endured constant requests for money.

Almost five years later, Whittaker is left with things money can't cure: His daughter's cancer, a long list of indiscretions documented in newspapers and court records, and an inability to trust others.

"I don't have any friends," he said in lengthy interview with The Associated Press. "Every friend that I've had, practically, has wanted to borrow money or something and of course, once they borrow money from you, you can't be friends anymore."

Whittaker was a self-made millionaire long before he became a lottery winner, having built a pipeline business worth $17 million. Then he hit the Powerball in December 2002. It was then the largest-single jackpot ever.

The prize was worth $314.9. Whittaker opted for the lump-sum payout of $170 million — $93 million after taxes.

He still has plenty of money. And instead of retiring, the 59-year-old starts his day at 5 a.m., juggling ventures in construction, real estate, used-cars, even movies. Work is the last remnant of his old life.

Wittaker answers questions

"Nothing else is normal," he said, sounding simultaneously gruff and sad.

His appearance has changed little. His blue eyes still twinkle when he tells a joke, his cowboy boots are worn from wear, and his grin remains toothless. He's too busy, he says, to pay attention to looks.

Whittaker began working part-time for his father at age 10, pouring cement. At 14, he dropped out of school to work full time. He's owned some kind of business ever since.

"I was accustomed to making big money and making my own money, and I never could get interested in school again after that."

By his own estimate, he's brought water and sewer service to some 100,000 homes and still does some good by providing 200 high-paying jobs.

"Probably the lowest-paid man in my construction company is, I'd say, $36 an hour," he said. "That's a good wage for any part of West Virginia."

Whittaker's family never wanted for anything, and he admits they have long been accustomed to a lifestyle most would consider lavish.

With every change of the seasons, new wardrobes filled their closets. The paint job on one of his granddaughter's many cars cost $16,000. Even the family's marble mausoleum towers over nearby grave markers in the hilltop cemetery in Jumping Branch.

But winning the Powerball was a different kind of wealth that brought instant celebrity status.

Whittaker's struggles with drinking, gambling and philandering became public, and tales of his transgressions were retold with relish.

His home and car were repeatedly burglarized. At a strip club, thieves broke into his Lincoln Navigator and stole a briefcase stuffed with $245,000 in $100 bills and three $100,000 cashiers checks. The briefcase was later found, with the money.

Whittaker was charged twice with driving while under the influence and sued repeatedly, once by three female casino employees who accused him of assault.

In all, Whittaker says, he's been involved in 460 legal actions since winning. He recently settled a lawsuit that alleged his bank failed to catch $50,000 in counterfeit checks cashed from his accounts.

Whittaker believes he has been unfairly demonized by the media, which he says exaggerated his problems and helped drive his wife away.

Jack fell in love with Jewell when he was in eighth grade and she was in seventh. The couple filed divorce papers three years ago but have yet to sign them.

"I don't know any normal person who could have a marriage with everything that's been written about me that's not true," Whittaker said.

The couple's daughter, Ginger McMahan, has battled cancer for years. The disease is in remission, though she remains in poor health. Before Powerball, Whittaker and his wife went to church together. These days, he seldom does.

"It's just aggravating, you know. People come up and ask you for money all the time, tell you some kind of a sob story."

Whittaker says he hasn't been stingy. The Jack Whittaker Foundation has spent $23 million building two churches. His family donates food, clothing and college scholarships to local students, "but all the big work with the foundation is completed," he said.

Jack Whittaker often wonders if he should have just torn up that winning Powerball ticket.Whittaker is also done with boozing — which, on his worst days, involved a fifth of vodka. He says he drank in part because he was worried about granddaughter Brandi Bragg, who shared his independent, headstrong personality and knew from a young age she wanted to run her Paw Paw's businesses.

"She was going to inherit everything," Whittaker said. "Everything that we have was built in a way that it went to her on her 21st birthday."

She never saw that day, dying at 17 after struggling with drug addiction.

Only 14 when Whittaker hit the Powerball, Bragg was in rehab a year later for Oxycontin addiction. Whittaker blames her problems on a kidnapping threat, which led to home schooling, and her decision to run with an older crowd.

He says he hired sheriff's deputies to track Bragg, personally hunted down and reported her drug dealers, and repeatedly sent her to rehab.

"It wasn't two or three months before she was right back on again, same drugs," he said.

He remembers their last conversation, when she was packing up to move to his Virginia home. "I told her, 'I'll come and get ya. I'll come and get ya right now if you're ready to come."'

But she wasn't. Her body was found two weeks later wrapped in a sheet and plastic tarp, hidden in a yard by a boyfriend who panicked when he found her dead.

The state's autopsy found Bragg had pills and a syringe tucked into her bra, and died with cocaine and methadone in her system. But the manner of her death is officially listed as "undetermined."

"If it would bring my granddaughter back, I'd give it all back," Whittaker said of his jackpot. "But I can't get her back, so might as well keep the money, I guess."

He remains devoted to his employees, despite 11 indictments charging his staff with embezzling from his companies.

"Jack is an incredible man," said Kathy Shepherd, Whittaker's administrative assistant for the past year. "People who don't know him have a lot of negative things to say about him, but if they knew him, they wouldn't."

Whittaker has little doubt as to his own legacy.

"I'm only going to be remembered as the lunatic who won the lottery," he said. "I'm not proud of that. I wanted to be remembered as someone who helped a lot of people."

AP

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45 comments. Last comment 9 years ago by fastball 9.
Page 1 of 4
One2Adore's avatar - butterfly2
Maryland
United States
Member #50566
March 8, 2007
88 Posts
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Posted: September 14, 2007, 1:29 pm - IP Logged

So sad.... 

    gocart1's avatar - lighthouse
    ONEONTA,NEW YORK
    United States
    Member #30516
    January 17, 2006
    419 Posts
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    Posted: September 14, 2007, 2:03 pm - IP Logged

    GOD, I feel so sorry for jack.I wonder if jack ever reads this lottery post websight.i know of a person that hit for 18 million dollars in the new yok lottery.this person ,like jack doesn't trust anyone .funny how all of us in here would love to win a lottery.i guess that saying ''be carefull what you wish for,you just might get it''  comes to mine.

      JackpotWanna's avatar - squiz

      United States
      Member #4121
      March 23, 2004
      817 Posts
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      Posted: September 14, 2007, 2:23 pm - IP Logged

      GOD, I feel so sorry for jack.I wonder if jack ever reads this lottery post websight.i know of a person that hit for 18 million dollars in the new yok lottery.this person ,like jack doesn't trust anyone .funny how all of us in here would love to win a lottery.i guess that saying ''be carefull what you wish for,you just might get it''  comes to mine.

      To play or not to play, that is the question. 

        MissNYC's avatar - diva
        Westchester, New York
        United States
        Member #49345
        January 27, 2007
        168 Posts
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        Posted: September 14, 2007, 2:40 pm - IP Logged

        Am I the only one here who is irritated  by the fact that someone already worth millions won the lottery? That's like when Jennifer Lopez's mom hit a million dollar slot machine jackpot. Sometimes I think God likes to have fun with us, perhaps because he knows it doesn't really mean anything.

        "If you just keep believing, that dream that you wish will come true"

        Bed

         

          justxploring's avatar - villiarna
          Wandering Aimlessly
          United States
          Member #25360
          November 5, 2005
          4461 Posts
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          Posted: September 14, 2007, 2:47 pm - IP Logged

          GOD, I feel so sorry for jack.I wonder if jack ever reads this lottery post websight.i know of a person that hit for 18 million dollars in the new yok lottery.this person ,like jack doesn't trust anyone .funny how all of us in here would love to win a lottery.i guess that saying ''be carefull what you wish for,you just might get it''  comes to mine.

          Don't be ridiculous.  The majority of Lottery winners go on to live very happy lives.  Regarding your friend, I understand what it's like not to trust people, but those are the people you don't want in your life anyway. 

          Miss NYC, I guess it just goes to show you that anyone can win.  I agree that it's frustrating when people with everything just get more and more of what they don't need.  I just saw Todd's post below, and I agree that Mr. Whittaker handled his money very foolishly. It's a very sad story nonetheless.  Anyway, your comment reminds me of some Yiddish proverbs about money.  Here are the rough translations:

           

          God loves the poor and He helps the rich.

          Money is round so it rolls away.

          Life is the cheapest bargain. You get it for nothing.

           

          A great one for the Lottery: 

          Hope may give man strength, but not sense.

           

          My favorite of all:

          If the rich could hire someone to die for them, the poor would make a wonderful living.

            Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
            Chief Bottle Washer
            New Jersey
            United States
            Member #1
            May 31, 2000
            23262 Posts
            Offline
            Posted: September 14, 2007, 2:56 pm - IP Logged

            Am I the only one here who is irritated  by the fact that someone already worth millions won the lottery? That's like when Jennifer Lopez's mom hit a million dollar slot machine jackpot. Sometimes I think God likes to have fun with us, perhaps because he knows it doesn't really mean anything.

            The guy is/was a self-made millionaire (on paper).  This is the kind of person -- at least work-ethic-wise -- that we want in this country, no?  I look at it that "someone up there" was rewarding him for his hard work and determination.

            The fact that he has a sad life now is a testament to his lack of common sense.

             

            Check the State Lottery Report Card
            What grade did your lottery earn?

             

            Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
            Help eliminate computerized drawings!

              hearsetrax's avatar - 0118

              United States
              Member #52345
              May 21, 2007
              2657 Posts
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              Posted: September 14, 2007, 3:51 pm - IP Logged

              The guy is/was a self-made millionaire (on paper).  This is the kind of person -- at least work-ethic-wise -- that we want in this country, no?  I look at it that "someone up there" was rewarding him for his hard work and determination.

              The fact that he has a sad life now is a testament to his lack of common sense.

              Mr. Sense had been with us for many years.
              No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

              He will be remembered as having cultivated such value lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair. 

              Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable Parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge).

              His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place.

              Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

              Mr. Sense declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student; but, could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

              Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. 

              Common Sense finally  gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge financial settlement. 

              Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.

              He is survived by two stepbrothers; My Rights and Ima Whiner.

              Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

              So sad as there was nothing common about Common Sense

              Thinking of...

                Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
                Chief Bottle Washer
                New Jersey
                United States
                Member #1
                May 31, 2000
                23262 Posts
                Offline
                Posted: September 14, 2007, 3:55 pm - IP Logged

                Awesome post, hearsetrax!

                I think you're right about that spilled-coffee award.  I think that was the legal event that opened the floodgates -- when lawyers realized that the citizens of this country were willing to award millions of dollars to people who made dumb mistakes and hurt themselves.

                 

                Check the State Lottery Report Card
                What grade did your lottery earn?

                 

                Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
                Help eliminate computerized drawings!

                  gocart1's avatar - lighthouse
                  ONEONTA,NEW YORK
                  United States
                  Member #30516
                  January 17, 2006
                  419 Posts
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                  Posted: September 14, 2007, 5:13 pm - IP Logged

                  Don't be ridiculous.  The majority of Lottery winners go on to live very happy lives.  Regarding your friend, I understand what it's like not to trust people, but those are the people you don't want in your life anyway. 

                  Miss NYC, I guess it just goes to show you that anyone can win.  I agree that it's frustrating when people with everything just get more and more of what they don't need.  I just saw Todd's post below, and I agree that Mr. Whittaker handled his money very foolishly. It's a very sad story nonetheless.  Anyway, your comment reminds me of some Yiddish proverbs about money.  Here are the rough translations:

                   

                  God loves the poor and He helps the rich.

                  Money is round so it rolls away.

                  Life is the cheapest bargain. You get it for nothing.

                   

                  A great one for the Lottery: 

                  Hope may give man strength, but not sense.

                   

                  My favorite of all:

                  If the rich could hire someone to die for them, the poor would make a wonderful living.

                  hello justxploring.....what i was trying to say ,was just to have a plan ready to go if you were to hit big ,or a plan B for that matter

                    DC81's avatar - batman39
                    MI
                    United States
                    Member #54830
                    August 31, 2007
                    985 Posts
                    Offline
                    Posted: September 14, 2007, 5:22 pm - IP Logged

                    Common Sense finally  gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge financial settlement.

                     

                     


                     

                     While I agree with the rest of your post, please look up the facts of the case since it looks like you don't know them.

                    You can't predict random.

                      Avatar
                      Urbandale, IA
                      United States
                      Member #8624
                      November 11, 2004
                      115 Posts
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                      Posted: September 14, 2007, 6:22 pm - IP Logged

                      Mr. Sense had been with us for many years.
                      No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

                      He will be remembered as having cultivated such value lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair. 

                      Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable Parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge).

                      His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place.

                      Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

                      Mr. Sense declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student; but, could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

                      Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. 

                      Common Sense finally  gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge financial settlement. 

                      Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.

                      He is survived by two stepbrothers; My Rights and Ima Whiner.

                      Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

                      So sad as there was nothing common about Common Sense

                      Thinking of...

                      No.  Common sense vanished when folks started listening to one-sided views of reality and stopped checking out things for themselves (or applying a little common sense).  The McDonald's case is a good example.  Did you know that this store intentionally prepared the coffee to such an extreme temperature that no rational person would even think about taking it into their car if they knew about it; that the store had been repeatedly warned about it.  Did you know that this woman did not just burn herself, but that the coffee destroyed skin, musle and tendons; that she required several operations and skin grafts and is permanently disfigured and disabled (limits on motions) AND that the award did not even cover the medical costs.  She still ended up with medical bills (though likely fogiven). 

                      As for the other things - do you really want to set up a theocracy in the U.S. and get rid of the free America that we all used to love?  A boy kissing a girl - you know there must have been much more than that cute little headline portrayed.  And the kids were likely filling those mouth wash bottles with vodka and Kool-Aide.  Just not using common sense to believe every newspaper article. 

                      We certainly all have different views about how the nation should be run and we can all agree that there are issues that need to be solved - but we don't need to make up any more problems, heh?

                        justxploring's avatar - villiarna
                        Wandering Aimlessly
                        United States
                        Member #25360
                        November 5, 2005
                        4461 Posts
                        Offline
                        Posted: September 14, 2007, 7:16 pm - IP Logged

                        No.  Common sense vanished when folks started listening to one-sided views of reality and stopped checking out things for themselves (or applying a little common sense).  The McDonald's case is a good example.  Did you know that this store intentionally prepared the coffee to such an extreme temperature that no rational person would even think about taking it into their car if they knew about it; that the store had been repeatedly warned about it.  Did you know that this woman did not just burn herself, but that the coffee destroyed skin, musle and tendons; that she required several operations and skin grafts and is permanently disfigured and disabled (limits on motions) AND that the award did not even cover the medical costs.  She still ended up with medical bills (though likely fogiven). 

                        As for the other things - do you really want to set up a theocracy in the U.S. and get rid of the free America that we all used to love?  A boy kissing a girl - you know there must have been much more than that cute little headline portrayed.  And the kids were likely filling those mouth wash bottles with vodka and Kool-Aide.  Just not using common sense to believe every newspaper article. 

                        We certainly all have different views about how the nation should be run and we can all agree that there are issues that need to be solved - but we don't need to make up any more problems, heh?

                        I Agree!

                        From what I understand, she was in her 80s and underwent numerous skin grafts.  When the jury was shown the photographs and listened to the real story, they decided she had suffered and awarded her a lot of money.  There had been several other lawsuits for over a decade that were settled quietly.  This is what happens when the media gets a hold of a story. 

                        I agree there many be many frivolous lawsuits, but most of them never make it to court.  Many years ago I was seriously injured by a doctor, resulting in permanent nerve damage, and I can't begin to tell you how difficult it is to get anything settled, even just to get your medical expenses covered. I knew a woman who collected $500,000 from Home Depot due to their carelessness.  There really wasn't any legal battle at all, since they settled quickly, but I heard all sorts of comments from coworkers, just like the spilled coffee ones.  Everytime someone joked about going to Home Depot and slipping in an aisle, they forgot to mention how many knee operations this woman had and the metal plate in her leg.

                          Avatar
                          Urbandale, IA
                          United States
                          Member #8624
                          November 11, 2004
                          115 Posts
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                          Posted: September 14, 2007, 7:30 pm - IP Logged

                          The case is Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, P.T.S., Inc., No. D-202 CV-93-02419, 1995 WL 360309 (Bernalillo County, N.M. Dist. Ct. Aug. 18, 1994).  McDonald’s had settled more than 700 burn cases before this one came up – some of them settled for up to $500,000.  The woman had asked for $20,000 from McDonald’s but was refused.  The jury found her 20% negligent.  I checked on the facts and found that the medical costs were not as high as I had remembers.  Guess I need to check my facts too.  But she receive third-degree burns (require grafting) over 6% of her body; she was hospitalized for 8 days and followed up with two years of treatment. I see these issues as one of common sense.  Would a reasonable person accept the risk of taking the product into the car with full knowledge of the potential result.  Most folks accept the risk of a nasty burn (pain and redness for a few days) if they spill their coffee.  I don’t think anyone would accept the coffee if they were advised that they would need skin grafts if the coffee tipped over.  In this case, McDonald’s created a situation that no reasonable person was aware of and so was responsible for the risk.   My usual test on awards is whether I would accept the cash in exchange for the injury.  If you would not, then the cash is probably not excessive.   In the McDonald’s case, the jury awarded $200,000 and then reduced that by 20%.  They did award her two-days worth of coffee sales as a punitive award ($2.7 million), but the judge reduced that to $480,000.  In fact, McDonald’s still refused to pay and settled for less than the total award (secret amount).   

                            JAP69's avatar - alas
                            South Carolina
                            United States
                            Member #6
                            November 4, 2001
                            8790 Posts
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                            Posted: September 14, 2007, 7:53 pm - IP Logged

                            Jack was already a millionare before winning the lottery. Did people prior to winning the lottery constantly ask for money from Jack. Was his homes and vehichles broken into for money prior to winning.
                            His private life was only known by a few.

                            Does winning the lottery put a different mentality in people towards the person that won.

                            WHATT