A Tennessee man who once took a vow of poverty became Tennessee’s largest lottery winner on Thursday after hitting the $259 million Powerball.
58-year-old Roy Cockrum said he intends to give away most of the winnings to the performing arts industry, and continue living a modest lifestyle.
Cockrum bought the ticket at the Kroger grocery store at 6702 Clinton Highway in Knoxville, and initially thought he won $500 for hitting three of the numbers.
“It’s a hard thing to process; your brain doesn’t want to believe it,” he said in a press conference.
“I was in a rush to take Mom to a medical appointment when I first checked the ticket. I saw the Powerball match and three winning numbers and thought, ‘Wow! $500! You never win that much on Powerball.’ I felt really lucky.
“But then — wait a minute, wait a minute — there’s another number, and finally I realized I hit the jackpot,” he recounted. “It literally knocked me to my knees. My prayer was simple – ‘Lord have Mercy!’
“But life goes on, so I picked myself up, put the winning ticket in my wallet and went to pick up my mother. I walked around University of Tennessee Medical Center all that morning with a $259.8 million winner in my pocket.”
Cockrum is a former member of the Episcopal Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The former priest said the pious lifestyle prepared him for the windfall.
“I really believe the best way to prepare for this tsunami of cash has been to live under a vow of poverty for a number of years,” he said. “It gives great perspective.”
He left the priesthood in 2009 and returned to Tennessee to take care of his parents. The single, self-employed, former actor chose the $115 million cash payout instead of the annuity payments.
Cockrum plans to save a portion of the winnings for his retirement, and give much away to charities. He also plans to use the rest to start a foundation benefitting the performing arts.
“I have received great counsel, and I will continue working very hard to make sure every single penny of this prize is a blessing to anyone it touches,” he stated.