Winning, losing, and good fortune for Salem man

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Tom Cook is 69. He settled in Salem in 1969.

Cook came south from his childhood home in the Catskills of upstate New York.

He arrived to start a job with Ed Marshall Insurance, and he would eventually take over the aviation insurance business from its founder.

For years, Cook ran the successful company from his former home at 715 W. Main Street, the last home on the right before the duck pond, if traveling west from downtown.

He believes he had a blessed life here in Salem before last Saturday morning. That’s when he woke up to see he’d won $1 million by playing Easy Pick in Virginia’s Mega Millions game.

Five tickets with five computer generated numbers bought at the Kroger on 419.

The retiree stared at the computer screen where he’d gone to check. Blinked a few times.

“I feel like I’m a pretty smart guy,” he told the Times-Register with a chuckle. “I can compare five numbers, right? But I called my wife into the room to be sure.

“I said ‘Honey, I think we just won a million dollars. What do you think?’”

She stopped, stared at the screen herself, and had to agree.

Neither would really believe it, though, until the Virginia Lottery confirmed the amazing luck Monday morning.

“So, it was a pretty nerve-wracking weekend,” Cook said. “I told a very few people, and only in the family.”

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Yes, he’d won that million dollars. After taxes, Cook will keep somewhere between six and seven hundred thousand.

“To me, it means we can hopefully have enough money to last out our days,” Cook said.

There’s another reason the new funds he’s won mean so much.

“You see,” Cook said, “many people who know me well know I suffered some serious health problems a few years ago. That was tough. But what not everyone knows is that my first wife, Mary Ann, died after several years of very serious illness.”

During that time, Cook had to sell the beautiful house on W. Main, and use those proceeds, along with all the savings from the insurance company business, to focus on his late wife’s long sickness.

Cook, other family members, friends and doctors, of course, did everything they could to help her treat and care for Mary Ann, and to make her as comfortable as possible throughout.

“There wasn’t much money left after she was gone,” Cook said. “The worst part, though, was just losing her.”

Even 11 years later, Cook grieves. “Recently in church, they played two of her favorite hymns,” he said. “Usually, I cry. This time, I was able to make it through. So, it’s getting a bit easier, I guess.”

Now this. Now, a chance to live, he hopes, without further financial stress.

“I’m not rich now,” Cook said. “But a friend said I’ve always been a rich man. I agree.”

His son, Thomas, a mid-’80s graduate of Salem High School, reminded his dad over the weekend that good things often happen in threes. Cook says he’s had his three already.

“My first wife, my second wife, Carol, and now, winning this,” Cook said.

“It’s so wonderful, and I’m very happy.”

Tom Cook and his spouse don’t plan to change their summer vacation schedule or plans, he said, even with the winnings. Life won’t be much different day to day.

Cook plays Easy Pick regularly. He always buys at the 419 Kroger. He was asked what else he bought that Friday, the very day of the Mega Milliions drawing that night.

“I’m sure I got some groceries,” he said. “I always do, two or three times a week there.”

He’ll likely continue.

The Kroger store received a $10,000 check in a winner’s event Monday afternoon. Tom Cook, of course, got the requisite picture taken with the big check for $1 million in his arms.

“I can’t believe life has been good to me again,” he said. “What more can I ask for?”