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R.I. woman on errand for sherbet wins $336.4m

Louise White, 81, won the Powerball in Rhode Island.

Louise White, 81, won the Powerball in Rhode Island.

NEWPORT, R.I. - LeRoy White walked in Friday to the Ocean Breeze Café and ordered what he always orders, a single buttermilk pancake and coffee.

But this time he also ordered an omelet. And if that was not enough to signal the cook and wait staff that something was amiss, the local musician proceeded to pour cream on his pancake instead of syrup.

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“Just a little distracted,’’ said café owner Christine Melucci.

Now they know why. It turned out that White was harboring a secret: His family had won $336.4 million in the Powerball lottery game, the third-largest in the history of the game and the largest ever in Rhode Island.

White’s mother, Louise, 81, stepped forward Tuesday to claim the prize. Rhode Island Lottery officials said she would take the money in a $210 million lump sum, putting it in a trust named The Rainbow Sherbert Trust, because she bought the ticket when a relative took her to the store in search of rainbow sherbet.

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“I want to say that I’m very happy and I’m very proud,’’ White said in brief comments to reporters during an appearance at Lottery headquarters in Cranston, R.I. “And this will make my family very happy. We are truly blessed. Thank you.’’

Jason Kurland, a lawyer for White, said she had hired a team of professionals to help her through the process.

‘This will make my family very happy. We are truly blessed. Thank you.’

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“Louise has been magnificent to work with,’’ he said. “She is as vibrant, as sharp, as vivacious as any octogenarian you’re ever going to meet.’’

The family could not be reached for further comment on Tuesday. No one answered at a small, 1 1/2-story home on Grafton Street, where neighbors said Louise lives, along with LeRoy and his wife.

A sign in the front window said “Hopen,’’ and a cat was seen napping on a window sill. A boat covered with a tarp sat in the driveway, along with a Toyota Corolla with bumper stickers that said, “Just say thanks,’’ “God bless the whole world- no exceptions,’’ and “Honor the dead, heal the wounded, end the war.’’

Another neighbor, Joan Kelly, 62, said the family has lived on Grafton for about 20 years, and that LeRoy has toured nationally with his band. “They’re a very nice, devoted family,’’ Kelly said. “Very close, and they’ve been great neighbors.’’

Joyce Foley, a sales clerk at a dry cleaner near the White home, said she had met Louise a couple of times and considered her a pleasant woman.

Foley also recalled hearing LeRoy White sing during a Christmas concert a couple of years ago at Channing Memorial Church on Pelham Street. “I was just astounded by the talent,’’ she said.

William Barber Jr., 16, a neighbor of the Whites, said he was working as a cashier at the Stop & Shop where Louise White bought the winning ticket.

He said White is “always respectful and always saying hi to people’’ when she visits the store.

Barber’s father, William Sr., 48, described White and her family as “really nice people’’ and said, “They go out of their way to say hello to you.’’

Tom Sheehan, 56, a bartender at Billy Goode’s Tavern on Marlborough Street, said Louise White’s grandson, Jay, regularly plays the drums at the bar with a band called Honky Tonk Nights.

Sheehan said one of Jay’s friends came into the bar last week after Jay had reportedly told him that he was leaving town for a while.

“He told his buddy, ‘When I come back, life’s going to be different for you,’ ’’ Sheehan said. “He can upgrade now.’’

Timmy Smith, 64, a patron at Billy Goode’s, said he was pleased to hear of the White family’s good fortune.

“I am so happy for them,’’ Smith said. “They deserve it. . . . She’s a wise woman.’’

Mayor Stephen C. Waluk of Newport, in a telephone interview, said that he, too, was happy for the family. “Of what I know of the family, specifically LeRoy, they’re very grounded people,’’ Waluk said. “[LeRoy] has been a very generous person with his time and his talent.’’

Waluk said that, among the youth programs LeRoy has been involved in, he used to lead a procession of children playing instruments during First Night celebrations.

“He was kind of like the Pied Piper leading the kids through the city,’’ Waluk said. “He’s one of these people - everyone in Newport knows who he is.’’

Debbie Mactal, 62, was walking her dogs on Grafton on Tuesday and said she was thrilled for the White family. She said they grow vegetables in their front yard and offer them to people passing by. “It’s the best family,’’ Mactal said. “So what if she’s 81 years old? She probably worked hard all her life.’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Martin Finucane can be reached at mfinucane@globe.com. Globe correspondents Colin A. Young and Alli Knothe contributed to this report.
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