By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Multi-million lottery winner Jimmy McCullar got behind the soda fountain at Turnage Drug Store last week to make a banana split for his wife, Carolyn. But, he had to borrow a banana to do it.
McCullar, who was visiting during Watermelon Carnival to attend his class reunion and a family reunion in Memphis, had worked at Turnage’s during his high school years and was pictured in the Herald with the drug store staff in 1960. He made international headlines in January of this year when he won half of the second-largest lottery jackpot in history, $380 million dollars.
McCullar said he thought he was having another heart attack when he matched numbers from the winning ticket. He took one of his nitroglycerin pills and tried to calm down. “I have the famous Riggs heart,” he explained, referring to his mother, Jewel Riggs. “All the Riggs boys died in their early 40’s and so did her Dad.”
“I have no idea how many heart attacks I have had,” he added. “I’ve got 12 stints in my heart; I’ve had triple bypass; I’ve died four times. But, I’m not ready to go yet. I’ve got a lot of money to get rid of.”
The McCullars have plenty of children to help them spend the winnings. Both have been married once before. “Hers, mine, and ours,” he said. “She had two, I had two, and we had two.”
This trip was the first to Water Valley since a class reunion in 1988, but it won’t be the last, according to McCullar. “They had so much fun they are ready to come back anytime. They had a ball.”
He was pleased that no one in Water Valley had asked for money during his visit. “Everyone has been happy for me. It’s been a great visit. No problems; no fears.”
But, that’s not the case at home in Washington state. “My mail is brought in tubs.”
Immediately following the win, the family went to Maui for three weeks to hide from all the publicity and the people who were seeking them out. While there, the local postmaster called to tell that their mail was piling up at the Post Office and someone needed to come and pick it up.
McCullar sent his brother-in-law. When he arrived the postmaster asked if he had come in the red car he had seen out front. When he said he had, the postmaster asked, “Do you have a truck? You need to go home and get it.”
In the mail were “hundreds of thousands of letters from every body who has a problem and needs money.”
“One girl wanted me to buy her a used car so she could continue to go to work because she is a single mother. Could I send her $20,000,” he said. “Even I don’t have a $20,000 used car. That’s a nice used car.”
McCullar is on his third cell phone and has had to change his email twice. “It’s just unbelievable. If you want to see the mess, just go to Google and type in my name. You’ll see all the interviews and the craziness.”
McCullar emphasized that he didn’t want the money to cause any family problems or to change who they are. “Our family made a pact with each other and with God. We don’t own this money. It’s His. We are stewards of it. And, if we ever abuse it, we want Him to take it away from us.”
When asked about the so-called lottery curse, McCullar responded, “Those people were cursed before they got the money. They did not have a good foundation.”
“None of the outside forces are going to destroy this because we are well rooted in the spiritual life. We know how to handle this. We’ve had some serious talks. We’ve set up some foundations that handle all our charity.”
When people call and tell McCullar they are a charity and desperately need money, he tells them to call his charitable foundation. “I give them the phone number and tell them to call the five lawyers. They leave me alone and usually don’t call the lawyers.”
The family has provided their foundation a list of the charities and organizations they are fond of and the foundation handles the gifts. “So, we don’t get bothered all the time.”
“You can’t stop it from changing your life. But, you can take control.”
Initially the family did have some concerns for their safety. When they first returned home to Ephrata, Wash., after the win, people were knocking on their door all hours of the day and night. Police suggested they move out and now their original home is vacant.
McCullar said that when he went behind the counter to make the banana split for his wife, nothing was where he remembered it being. “What’d you do?” he asked Binnie Turnage. “Sell all my stuff to the antique stores.”
He also discovered that there was not a single banana available. “My niece was here with us and she said, ‘I have a banana in my car.’ She went out and got it and we made Carolyn a banana split and handed it over the counter to her and gave her a kiss.”