Cynthia Stafford’s life changed on Mother’s Day in 2007 when she won $112 million playing the Mega Millions. Thanks to some sage words of advice from David Geffen, a lot of gumption and the power of visualization, she is now considered to be one of Los Angeles’ biggest philanthropists.
Speaking from the Founders Room at the Geffen Playhouse, where she’s an active board member, Stafford admits that a career in theatre was never one of her aspirations. But, as we all know, dreams can change.
“I wanted to do something that moved my soul,” she says. “I always attended the Geffen before I won the lottery. I was a patron of the arts for years. After I won, I was in a position to give money to their program, which I did anonymously.
“I was online looking to buy tickets for a show and I saw the Geffen needed money for their education program. I like the thought that kids of all cultures and ages could sit down and enjoy a play that I donated $10K. I couldn’t be completely anonymous – I paid with a credit card, after all. The Geffen traced my card and asked me if I would be interested in being on the board and getting more involved in the theatre. Of course I said yes.”
She credits David Geffen with helping her to manage her newfound wealth; he told her that she needed to protect her assets and make smart investments. “He’s quite a gentleman,” she says with a smile. “It inspires me how much he’s done for the arts. And he gave me some great advice. He said ‘Don’t use your own money!’ He essentially told me to be careful with my investments and to always have good people behind me.”
His advice paid off. The entrepreneurial lotto winner has increased her wealth through strategic business moves, one of which was to found her own movie production company, Queen Nefertari Productions LLC. Stafford currently develops projects for film and television, which includes providing the financial backing for three to four features per year.
At the same time, she’s managed to increase her philanthropic efforts to the extent that the Geffen has named a room after her and celebrates a day in her honor. Cynthia Stafford Gifted Day invites honors students from underserved local schools to enjoy a day of theatre education and put on a live staged play. Additionally, she continues to make donations to charities such as the George Lopez Foundation, God’s Love We Deliver and UNICEF.
She continues to make donations to charities such as the George Lopez Foundation, God’s Love We Deliver and UNICEF.
But make no mistake – though Stafford is clearly a giver, she’s also enjoying her new life to the fullest. Her indulgences include Gucci, Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry and flying by private plane. She currently has six cars – including two Bentleys and a Mercedes – and is about to purchase a Rolls Royce Ghost.
But unlike many, Stafford will never take her wealth or the life it now affords her for granted. She unexpectedly became a foster mother in the late 1990’s when her brother left his five children in her care; winning the lottery afforded her the means to support them. She knows how lucky she is.
“I look at my life and I think I’ve been blessed for all that I have,” she says. “I am living my dreams.”
As one of the rare individuals that is actually given the chance to live the life she’s always envisioned, the most important piece of advice Stafford can offer is to “have a dream. If you want to return to school after years of working and other people don’t believe you can do it, don’t listen. Your friends and family are not you and can’t always tell you what’s best for you. Trust your intuition and focus your energy. Whatever you want, believe that you’ll get it.”
Speaking of dreams, Stafford has a new one. The former $112 Million Woman now says: “I want to be called the “Billion Dollar Woman!”
Something tells us she’ll get her wish.