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80-year-old claims a piece of Calif. lottery jackpot

Aug 31, 2004, 8:50 am

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California Lottery

Walter F. Tracey slept in until about 1 p.m. Sunday, then got a surprising jolt. The 80-year-old World War II Navy pilot checked the newspaper, and there it was in black and white: He had the winning numbers for the $100 million SuperLotto Plus jackpot.

About two hours later, when with the help of a cane he walked into J.P. Liquors in Los Altos, he learned he was one of three jackpot winners. He would receive $33.3 million, minus taxes, and the fortunes of his large family would change.

"I haven't gotten a whoop or holler out of him yet," said his smiling son Paul Tracey, 41, who lives with his father in Los Altos Hills.

After having several strokes since 1989, Walter Tracey said he doesn't feel or show much emotion. But sitting in a chair in his living room later, mulling over his good fortune, he gave up a small smile and admitted, "I am very happy."

The other winning tickets were purchased in Sausalito and Huntington Beach, California Lottery officials said Sunday. The winning numbers in Saturday's drawing were 17, 18, 28, 33, 39, with 19 the Meganumber.

Tracey's winnings came on top of another recent family jackpot: The birth 10 days ago of his 14th grandchild, Amelia, to Paul Tracey and his wife, Ivka. "She is a beautiful little baby girl," her grandpa said.

"This money will go to a lot of family and benefit them," Walter Tracey said. His top priority is education. Although his kids are grown, the oldest grandchildren are just reaching college age.

Tracey's wife of 57 years died more than three years ago, and he said he still thinks of her every day. The two young Irish immigrants met and fell in love in Boston, and dventually had eight children.

The news of a jackpot winner in Los Altos prompted a steady stream of visitors Sunday to the family-run J.P. Liquors, where longtime owner Greg Rivera looked on as customers -- including the Traceys -- laid down their tickets to see whether they had won.

Having sold a winning ticket, Rivera gets a taste of the prize -- in this case, $166,666.

"We told him we were going to put a new roof on the store for him if we won," said Helen Catton, who goes by the nickname "Hellcat." Catton, who buys one lottery ticket for herself and another for her husband each trip, still couldn't believe the store had its second jackpot winner. A woman won about $8 million several years ago, Rivera said.

When the ticket-scanning machine flashed up "congratulations," on the screen, Kamran Lahiji laughed and said, "It's me! Call the ambulance!" But he'd won only $10 on the $2 worth of tickets.

Before heading home after the hoopla at the liquor store, Tracey and his son stopped at St. Nicholas Catholic Church, where he has worshiped since moving to the area in 1952. He gave thanks to God and talked to the pastor.

Tracey has played the lotto religiously for the past five years, said his son, who is charged with buying him tickets about twice a week.

"It's a pain in the butt sometimes, he's so insistent about getting the tickets," Paul Tracey said.

In buying those tickets week in and week out, he never expected to be a millionaire, Walter Tracey said. "I was thinking not of me, but the family."

On Saturday, Paul Tracey spent $40 on tickets. Most were quick-pick numbers. Paul Tracy gave his father two tickets and kept two.

Earlier Sunday, Paul Tracey had heard on the radio that Los Altos had a jackpot winner.

"I thought, `That eliminates a lot of people and increases our odds.' Before he went upstairs to take a nap, he said, he'd told his wife he was not going to check the numbers "because I wanted to live the dream as long as possible."

He was napping upstairs when his wife told him it was no dream -- it appeared his dad had won the jackpot. "My eyes just about popped out of my head," he said.

A Phi Beta Kappa economics graduate of Stanford University, Walter Tracey was a decorated B-24 pilot who flew in the battle for Iwo Jima. He served in the Navy for 24 years before going to work for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. His career ended after his first stroke.

Most of his newfound riches will be distributed among his family, Walter Tracey said. But there also are a few neglected home repairs he is contemplating, including replacing his cracked concrete driveway and rebuilding a collapsing pool house.

Paul Tracey, who teaches and coaches at St. Cyprian School in Sunnyvale, says he has no quarrels with fate about handing over what turned out to be the winning ticket to his dad.

"Had I won, I would have shared it with my brothers and sisters as well. There's definitely some people in the family who could use the help."

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