Giving Large

Newsmakers Violet and Allen Large hit the jackpot and gave most of it away

Giving Large

Nova Scotia lottery winners | Daniel St.Louis

One Sunday morning in mid-July, while tucked inside their 147-year-old white farmhouse in Lower Truro, N.S., Allen Large asked his wife, Violet, “Did you check the tickets from last night?”

This exchange had become a ritual for the couple, who’ve been together for 46 years, and have played the lottery—twice a week, every week—for about as long. Violet hadn’t, so she dialled into the Lotto 6/49 hotline and listened. After a few seconds, she said out loud, “Well, we got $10,” because the first three numbers matched. After a few more seconds, the rest of the numbers matched too.

So Violet, 78, did the only thing she could think of next: she hung up. And she called back. Again and again. “Oh, I checked those numbers so many times,” Violet says. Then she called Allen from out of the kitchen, and handed him the phone receiver. Allen, 75, listened, he looked at his wife, and nodded: “Yeah, that’s the right numbers.”

There must be some mistake, thought Violet. So she called her brother, who rummaged through a pile of newspapers for the previous night’s winning numbers. When he found them, he told his sister: “Yup, that’s the right numbers.” Then Violet’s other brother came over to the house, and checked the numbers too. “Yes,” he said, “You’ve got them.”

Violet looked at Allen, and for the first time that day, began to realize that after all their years of working hard (he in construction, she at a cosmetics factory), saving money (they retired in 1983), and playing the lotto (they each like to buy their own tickets at the mall kiosk), they might have actually won. A lot: $11,255,272. The possibility was incomprehensible to Violet, who kept repeating one question: “What,” she asked, “are we going to do?”

For the next week, the Larges did nothing. The lottery ticket sat on a shelf in the china cabinet in their dining room. Now, weeks after Allen and Violet made international headlines for giving away all but two per cent of their fortune to their siblings and dozens of charities, a “big, phony cheque,” sits in their front room. It’s the one they were photographed with after driving to Moncton, N.B., with Violet’s two brothers and their wives to claim the prize. “May as well keep it,” says Violet, “just as a souvenir.”

May as well, since the Larges don’t have any new purchases to show for their win. And that’s just the way they like it. “We have a 1987 Diplomat car. It’s in perfect shape. We have a nice 2005 half-ton truck, and it’s no problem,” says Violet. “And our house is old, but we’re so cozy in it that’s all we want.” It goes on and on like this: “We live up on a hill. It’s nice and quiet. We’re only two miles from town. Your mail comes right to your driveway. The snowplow comes right to your driveway. What more do you want?”

How about worldly adventure? “We couldn’t care less for travel,” replies Violet. The couple has only ever been to southern Ontario, Florida for a week in 1985, and Vancouver for Expo ’86. What about little indulgences—massages, exotic dark chocolate, a new fishing rod, or fancy dinners? The Larges don’t see the appeal. Their favourite ways to luxuriate are well-established: “We go a friend’s place and play cards,” says Violet, or “we go to a few dances.”

It was at a square dance on Feb. 29, 1964, that Allen and Violet first met. They were both newly separated, and living around Toronto. That night, Violet, who was born in the town called Economy in Nova Scotia (ironically enough), was wearing a blue pleated skirt evocative of the provincial tartan. Allen, who was born in Malagash on the north shore, happened to be wearing a blue tartan shirt. He asked her to dance, and their decade-long courtship began. The couple married on Apr. 27, 1974, Violet’s 42nd birthday. She wore a floral dress.

That the Larges, who have no children together or pets, and grew up middle class, are perfectly content with each other and thankful for what they have is evident not only in how they’ve handled the lotto jackpot but in their reaction to the other big news this year: that Violet has ovarian cancer. Allen was with her at the doctor’s office in May when she was diagnosed. “It didn’t upset me because I thought, well, at my age . . . ” recalls Violet, who recently finished chemotherapy after having a hysterectomy. “There’s always someone worse off than you. So it never got me right down. You just go day by day.”

And so the Larges, who until this summer had only ever won a few dollars in the lotto, have no plans for what they’ll do with the little money they’ve kept. Nor have they stopped buying tickets. No reason to give up an old habit now, as they see it: “It’s just something to do.” But if the Larges win again, they will give the money away again.

“You’re born with nothing, and you’re going to die with nothing,” says Violet. “That’s the only way to look at it.”

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