TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - An 84-year-old Florida woman who bought her Powerball ticket after another customer let her get ahead in line came forward Wednesday to claim the $590 million jackpot, becoming the largest sole lottery winner in U.S. history.
Gloria C. Mackenzie, of Zephyrhills, where the winning ticket was sold May 18, took a single lump sum payment of just over $370 million, Florida Lottery officials said. After paying 25 percent for federal income taxes, Mackenzie is taking home about $270 million, officials said.
She did not speak to a crowd of reporters outside lottery headquarters, leaving quickly in a silver Ford Focus with her son, Scott Mackenzie, of Jacksonville and family friends. She was accompanied by two unidentified attorneys, who left in a separate car.
MacKenzie bought the winning ticket at a Publix supermarket, a town of about 13,300 people located 30 miles northeast of Tampa. It is best known for bottled spring water that bears its name - and now one of the biggest lottery winners of all time.
In a statement read by lottery officials, Mackenzie said she purchased the ticket after another buyer "was kind enough to let me go ahead in line to purchase the winning ticket." Mackenzie played a quick-pick ticket, in which the numbers are generated randomly by lottery computers. She said she also purchased four other tickets for the same drawing.
"We are grateful with this blessing of winning the Florida Lottery Powerball jackpot. We appreciate the interest from the public, state of Florida and the lottery," the statement said. "We hope that everyone would give us the opportunity to maintain our privacy for our family's benefit."
The winner had 60 days from the May 18 drawing to claim the lump sum. Lottery spokesman David Bishop said Mackenzie, her lawyers and financial adviser were very prepared when they arrived, spending about two hours going through the necessary paperwork.
"They had clearly been preparing for this. They took all this time to get everything in order," Bishop said.
Minutes after the announcement, a dozen reporters in Zephyrhills were camped outside Mackenzie's modest grey duplex, which backs up to a dirt alley and is across from a cow pasture.
Neighbors were surprised and said Mackenzie never mentioned her big win.
"She didn't say anything about it. She's so quiet and secluded. She's usually in the house," said neighbor James Hill. "I'm very happy for her. It couldn't have happened to a nicer person. She was always pleasant and smiling."
Another neighbor, Don Cecil, joked "I hope she gets a better place to live."
Mackenzie's neighbors offered few details about her life, including how long she'd lived there and whether she was married. They said she mostly kept to herself, but they saw her take short walks along the street and exchanged pleasantries with her.
"They keep to themselves quite a bit, very nice people," said Teri Godfrey, one of Mackenzie's neighbors. "Been neighborly. Neighbors of ours for several years."
Mackenzie's house, which was situated among mostly mobile home and pre-fabricated houses, had a chain link fence with grey shutters, a tin sheet roof and an old TV antenna.
The eyes of the nation were watching as Mackenzie was announced to now be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. All of the local stations had been joined by the network morning shows like Today and Good Morning America.
Bill Carter is a field producer for Good Morning America.
"There's interest anytime someone goes from rags to riches in 24 hours," Carter said. "As I understand it, mom was moving into the house because she couldn't afford to live outside of the house."
A different producer from the Today show told Channel 4's Scott Johnson off camera that she never expected the Tallahassee news conference to be as somber as it was, likening it to a court case.
Carter said it's hard to say if this family will remain private or talk publicly about what they'll spend the money on.
"When you're dealing with people who aren't used to dealing with media or don't have representation, or they're told by the lottery or whoever that you don't have to talk to the media, they usually don't. They go into hiding," said Carter.
Linda Pratt is one of Mackenzie's neighbors. When asked if she would be talking to them more now, she said, "Oh I probably will, maybe they'll pay it forward in this neighborhood."
"I know they got a couple Ford Focuses and that's it," said neighbor Steve Harris.
Neighbors said that Mackenzie had been in the process of moving here for care now that she's in her mid-80's, but in light of this new found fortune, it's hard to say where they'll end up living.
"I'm hoping he helps his neighbors out. The neighborly fund. Bring up the area a little bit," said neighbor Chris Hill. "Make it a little nicer, that's what we're going for."
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