originally published March 6, 2013
Most lottery winners disappear with their winnings into obscurity, savoring fortune whilst evading fame, happy to have their spotlight moment in the evening news, then disappearing into the night with their oversize novelty check tucked beneath their arm. Whether the money changes their lives, whether it changes who they are, remains invisible to all who don’t know them. That’s a stroke of victory. Big bucks with no ensuing Whammy.
But our culture, which seems morbidly mired in its own sense of perpetual denigration, yearns to see the failure of others. Whether it’s from Schadenfreude or simple jealousy, our purveyors of tabloid trash instinctively know how desperately we want to see the mighty fall, even if they are only mighty because a half-dozen ping pong balls got spit out of a machine. It’s a “human interest” story. They bought a ticket just like we did, but they won.
This story starts out so cinematically it almost seems made-up. The year is 1986. Jean-Guy Lavigueur of Ville-Marie (a poor section of Montreal) has been out of work for a year and a half, a single father of four since the kids’ mother passed away. They had lost two children due to heart issues, and Jean-Guy just wants to keep his family together. He buys a lottery ticket. Then he loses his wallet.
28-year-old William Murphy has just moved to Montreal from Vancouver. He finds Jean-Guy’s wallet and checks the numbers on the lottery ticket inside. Suddenly William realizes that he just found an unsigned slip of paper worth $7.65 million. On the one hand, William was rich. On the other, he was honest.
Returning the wallet (and ticket) to Jean-Guy was not an easy task. William showed up at the Lavigueur home and was stopped at the door by Yves Lavigueur, who couldn’t bridge the French-English language gap with William, and sent him away. William returned later and spoke to Jean-Guy. He explained what happened. And like a true mensch, Jean-Guy opted to share the jackpot with William. He also decided to share it with his children, who had all pitched in a little to buy the ticket. Well, all except one.
That’s Louise Lavigueur. She didn’t throw any money into the family’s reach for the gigantic Loto-Québec draw that week. Maybe she wasn’t big into long-shot lotteries, maybe she needed to choose between spending the dollar on the lottery or spending it on gas to get to work – I don’t know, and most of the resources out there on this story are in French. Hey, I’ve got to write one of these every day; some nuances will get missed due to abridged research.
But it’s with Louise that this happy story of the largest Loto-Québec jackpot turns sour. Jean-Guy split the jackpot with William, Yves, his daughter Sylvie and his son Michel. Louise was not cut in.
This is the deal with group lottery-ticket buys. I’ve had the offer extended to me a few times, through family, friends or work. I end up pitching in – not because I have any faith that we’ll win, but because on the off-chance the right numbers come up, I don’t want to be the one guy left with a big sack of nada while everyone else’s is filled with the spoils of good fortune. No one wants to be that one guy. Louise Lavigueur was that one guy.
Whatever happened between Louise and the rest of her family might have remained behind closed doors were it not for that insipid combination of a slow news week and the spicy ingredients of local fame that came bundled with the story: the massive jackpot, the brilliant story of the lost wallet, and the Lavigueurs’ prior financial situation caught the public’s attention.
Were I Jean-Guy, I would make sure all my kids were equally taken care of, no matter who pitched in what to buy the ticket. But I’m not, nor have I ever been Jean-Guy Lavigueur. I don’t know the dynamics of the Lavigueur family in 1986, though I have no doubt people all over Montreal, where this story was front-page news, were speculating about what happened next.
The case ended up in court. Louise sued her family for a share of the winnings, and from there everything fell apart. Whether or not any of that money landed in her bank account, I have no clue. Curious enough to trust Google Chrome to translate some of these source articles for me, I checked out the links at the foot of their Wikipedia page only to find most of them dead. The outcome of Louise’s lawsuit remains a mystery to me, though the one undeniable fact is that the lottery win set this family on a direct course to Crumblesville.
I’m sure it didn’t help that the Lavigueurs suddenly became a bountiful source of comedic riffing material for the province of Quebec.
I’ll leave it to those with superior French skills to figure out if the above comic is at all funny. The strip, called Les Ravibreur, was a satirical comic that showed up monthly in Croc magazine, a popular humor magazine. It depicted a very clear caricature of Jean-Guy and the rest of the Lavigueurs, portraying them as simple-minded yutzes. Why this wasn’t grounds for a lawsuit, I’m not sure. But it couldn’t have helped this flailing family to see this every month. For three years.
Then, a popular Dutch movie called Flodder, about a dysfunctional family who moves into a wealthy neighborhood, was translated into Les Lavigueur déménagent (literally, the Lavigueurs are moving) when it was brought into Quebec. Again, it didn’t do wonders for the family’s image. Neither did the film’s two sequels.
I wish I could wrap up this story with a happy ending, but this isn’t Hollywood. Louise passed away from heart failure only five years after the family’s big win. Jean-Guy suffered from respiratory problems, and sailed beyond the veil in 2000. The CBC article about his passing noted that he had lost most of his friends, who had felt he failed to share his fortune to their standards of acceptable generosity. From the sounds of it, Jean-Guy did not die a happy man.
Lastly, Michel Lavigueur committed suicide in 2004. Yves and Sylvie, the two surviving kids, are the only ones left of this sad tale. Well, William Murphy, the guy who returned a found wallet containing over seven million poison-tipped dollars, might still be alive and kicking.
There is no great moral here, except that a found fortune doesn’t always lead to the exuberant joy one might expect. That won’t stop me from wanting to see if my luck might be better though.