When Sheffield’s Barbara Wragg died aged 77 last May, her husband Ray lost not only his wife of 57 years, but also his partner on an adventure neither of them could have ever imagined they would live through.
19 years ago this month, on January 22, 2000 – the couple won £7.6million on the National Lottery, changing their lives overnight and turning them into minor celebrities.
After going public at a Champagne celebration at Bramall Lane, buying a new house and car and securing their children’s financial futures, the couple could have been forgiven for simply sitting back and enjoying their extraordinary good fortune.
But Barbara and Ray chose a different path, deciding instead to give most of their money away, changing the lives of countless other people and becoming known in the process as Sheffield’s ‘Lotto Angels’.
“You get your lottery winners coming on TV now and they say they are going to do this and that - and then they vanish,” said Ray, aged 81.
“But with Barbara it was like at Christmas when you give a present and see the expression on people’s faces - she liked to see people’s reactions when we gave them the money.
“We helped a lot of causes and made a lot of people happy.”
“Afterwards, lots of people came up to us in the street to shake our hands and to give us a rub for luck.
“They said thank you for everything you did for Sheffield and the hospitals. I am very proud what we have done.”
The couple were careful not to give all their winnings away, however, and took time to enjoy themselves after a lifetime of hard work by enjoying some of the finer things in life for a time.
They previously lived in a council house on the Jordanthorpe estate, which they were actually looking to buy at the precise moment of their astonishing good fortune.
But Barbara had always wanted to live in a house with bay windows, so the couple bought a sumptuous new-build detached property in Whirlow, where Ray still lives today.
Ray also got the first of several Range Rovers, and the pair also enjoyed many cruises to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, New York and the Baltic.
They also both quit their jobs straight away, Ray’s as a supervisor at a construction firm and Barbara’s as a night shift worker at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.
But the high life simply wasn’t enough for a couple who were determined their luck would be shared more widely than among themselves and their immediate family.
When deciding who they would give their money to, Ray says they always consulted each other, but often it was simply causes and organisations that caught their eye and they thought were deserving.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding causes they supported was the Monte Cassino veterans association 60th reunion in 2004.
After noticing the story in a national newspaper, Barbara got in touch with the association offering to give them the entire £12,000 they needed to fly them all over to Italy.
The couple even travelled to Manchester Airport on the morning of their departure to wave them off.
As well as the Monte Cassino veterans, they gave £10,000 towards the a new MRI scanner at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, took 250 inner city children to see Disney on Ice and gave £2,000 to legendary Sheffield boxing trainer Brendan Ingle.
They also gave money to the Meningitis Trust, Macmillan, Help for Heroes, the Make a Wish Foundation, Bents Green School, Parkhill Lodge Care Home, Norton House Country Club and countless other individuals and organisations across almost two decades.
Remembering the night of the win, Ray recalled his incredulity as their numbers came in.
“Barbara said we’ve got three numbers, I thought well at least that will pay for next Wednesday and Saturday,” he said.
“Then she said ‘we’ve got five, six… we’ve got seven Ray’. I said ‘we haven’t’, she said ‘we have’ and we went on like that for a while.”
“Barbara said if we have won a million then we will pay off the kids’ mortgages and make some of our family and friend’s lives a bit easier.
“But we were the only winners and it ended up being £7.6million.”
The beautiful Whirlow home they bought with their winnings and lived in together for 18 years is still filled with mementos and memorabilia of their giving and the astonishing life they shared with each other.
There are awards given by lottery firm Camelot and, at Barbara’s behest, the rooms are filled with dozens of ornamental elephants - all facing the door with their trunks in the air.
“The most important thing was elephants with their trunks up - she said it was lucky. That was even before we won the lottery,” said Ray.
“Barbara would wake up in the morning and say ‘are we dreaming’, have we won this money and is this really our house?”
“But we were happy before our win and we were happy after.”
Since sadly losing Barbara last May, Ray says he has been ‘very lucky’ to have had the support of his three ‘brilliant’ children - Mark, Shaun and Amanda - his daughters and sons in law, his seven grandchildren, and his ‘fantastic’ neighbours, and says he is never on his own in some respects.
The lifelong Blade still attends every home Sheffield United game, swims regularly at Graves Leisure Centre and recently returned from a cruise in the Canaries.
Almost as soon as he got back from his last trip he received a call from Radio Kent asking for Barbara.
They wanted to ask her advice for some other lucky people who’d just won a £100m plus lottery rollover – but Ray sadly had to inform them she’d passed away.
“I just told them what Barbara always said to people,” he said.
“When we won we did what we wanted to do with it. It is up them to decide what they want to do with it.”