STACY LOWRY | $5 Million | Jan. 8, 2000

SPLURGES: MUSTANG CONVERTIBLE, A MINI COOPER FOR HER MOM, A MUSTANG FOR HER DAD

 

“I never knew people could be cruel, or jealous or deceitful. Then I won the lottery,” says Stacey Lowry, who was working as a gas station cashier in Prineville, Ore., when she bought the winning ticket. “In a lot of ways, I think I lost my innocence.”

So ebullient was the then 20-year-old over her win that she agreed to allow the Oregon Lottery to use her face on billboards. A series of unhappy events followed soon thereafter. She was heckled on the street. Someone broke into and burgled her home in Bend—three times. Rumors about how she spent her money spread through town. “My favorite was the one about gigolos,” she says. “My least favorite was the one about me dying in a car wreck on my way to Vegas for a spending binge.”

But the hardest lessons concerned her relationships. “I had a lot of friends—I call them ‘the bad apples’—who took me for cash,” Lowry says. “There were times I would cry and ask, ‘Why do I deserve this?’ I didn’t want the lottery anymore if this is what I’m going to have to deal with. I’d rather struggle like everyone else. Be like everyone else.”

Today she lives in a modest Southeast Portland house, and the stash of Coach, Louis Vuitton and Burberry handbags she’s collected over the last few years (she’s recently pared them down in number to 35 from more than 100) are the only visible hints of her wealth. “The things that make me the happiest have nothing to do with the check I get every year for $250,000,” she says. “It’s going for walks to see ducks down the road or playing in the park with my daughter.” In other words, she says, the kind of experiences available to anyone, no matter their economic status.