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Thursday August 4, 2011

Lottery winner gave windfall away

'Why spend money when you already have everything you need?'

Special to The Globe and Mail

Her generosity captured the admiration of people around the world, moving them to contemplate her selfless act and wonder if they would do the same if they were ever lucky enough to find themselves in her position.

After decades of living modestly, Violet Large suddenly had the money to fulfill any possible dream. In July, 2010, she and her husband, Allen, learned they had won $11.2-million in the Lotto 6/49 jackpot.

It didn't take the retired couple from Lower Truro, N.S., long to realize their dreams were unusual. They had no desire to buy a fancy sports car, go on an exotic cruise or move into a mansion. Instead, they worked quickly to give their winnings away.

"We're just good old country people," Allen said at the time.

After the win, the couple took about a week to work out the details before embarking on their plan. They kept about 2 per cent for themselves, in case of emergency, and split the rest between immediate family and charities.

"We haven't spent even one penny on ourselves," Violet told The Globe and Mail last November. "Why spend money when you already have everything you need?"

The couple quietly donated to hospitals in Truro and Halifax, where Violet, who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer a few months before the win, received treatment. They also gave undisclosed amounts to family, churches, cemeteries, fire departments and several other organizations. On the long list of groups that got money was their church, Old Barns United in Truro.

"They have both shown themselves to be very selfless and generous and down-to-earth people," said Rev. Ian Harrison. "They had a spirit of community giving."

It was a spirit that existed long before their lottery win, he added. "I don't think they ever had any intention of [their generosity] becoming public."

After they won, the Larges continued to drive their five-year-old truck and 13-year-old car. They didn't have a microwave or voice-mail in their 147-year-old farmhouse. They didn't travel or buy expensive things. A splurge for Violet was ribs at Swiss Chalet. They were content with what they had and concluded that others needed the money more.

"What you've never had, you never miss," Violet told The Chronicle Herald newspaper last year. "I've never been down and out, so what more do you want?"

Sharon Crowe, executive director of the Colchester Regional Hospital Foundation, remembers the day Violet and Allen came to drop off their sizable cheque. They came quietly without making an appointment. "Did you arrive by limo?" she joked with them. " 'No, they said: We came by truck. We're just stopping in.' "

The Larges didn't want Crowe to make an announcement or to make a big deal about their donation. For years they had been donating small amounts to the foundation.

"They would have been just as happy if no one had known what they were doing," Crowe said. "They thought what they had done was so unremarkable."

Born on April 27, 1932, in the rural Nova Scotian community of Economy, Violet eventually moved to Ontario to work and met Allen at a dance.

"She was wearing a tartan skirt and I was wearing a tartan shirt, and I said I must ask that girl for a dance," Allen told The Globe.

They married in 1974 and spent 30 years in Ontario, where Allen was a steel welder and Violet worked for cosmetics and chocolate companies. They often didn't have much money and would stay home a lot. He'd watch television while she read, romance novels mostly. They also loved to go to community dances.

They retired in 1983 and returned to Nova Scotia. While they were far from millionaires, they were comfortable and had everything they wanted in retirement.

"Their biggest win was when they found each other," said Crowe. "They were truly content and in love. After all those years, they still looked at each other with such love."

For close to 40 years they had been buying lottery tickets every week. "It was their splurge," she said. "Never in their wildest dreams did they expect to win."

Calling the lottery win and all the money "a big headache," Violet and Allen knew their donations were helping others.

"Violet would always say, 'There's someone worse off than me,' " said Laurie Sandeson, a long-time neighbour.

For their generosity, the Larges received several awards. Sandeson remembers dropping by their home earlier this year to tell them that the Rotary Club was giving them a prestigious award. Humbled by the recognition, they sent her away with a jar of homemade blackberry jelly. "They wondered who they should pay for the complimentary tickets [for the awards dinner]," she said.

The Larges also recently received the 2011 Maritime Outstanding Individual Philanthropist Award from the Nova Scotia branch of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Crowe accepted the honour on their behalf, as they were unable to attend the ceremony due to Violet's illness. She was given a standing ovation. Before the ceremony, she asked Violet if there was anything she should tell the audience. "Tell them we haven't regretted a thing. We were happy to do it."

Large died on July 16 at Colchester Regional Hospital in Truro. She was 79. She leaves Allen, step-daughters Louise and Betty, three step-grandchildren and five step-great-grandchildren.

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