Pubdate: Thu, 29 Nov 2012
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Mike Hager
Pages: A10-11


People of Terrace gratefully receive cheques and new vehicles being 
handed out by recent lottery winner

Bob Erb peers out from his half-open front door, wearing a paint- 
speckled maroon shirt emblazoned with a large cannabis leaf. One of 
his daughter Audrey's three small children screams from inside the 
duplex, which is surrounded by a yard filled with rusted folk art, 
children's toys and a yapping miniature poodle.

Erb's duplex unit is identified by an A scrawled in jiffy marker on 
the front door. Above it is a sign - "Smile, you are on Candid 
Camera" - possibly scooped up during Erb's frequent garage-sale rummaging.

Since the 60- year-old won half of a $ 50- million Lotto Max jackpot 
a few weeks ago, he and his only surviving child have been slowly and 
quietly dispensing gifts, helping the businesses and people of 
Terrace, a small town hit hard by a decade-long slump in the 
province's forestry industry which only now shows signs of reversing.

A fistful of cash, a $ 1,000 cheque here, a $ 10,000 cheque there. 
Several new high-end cars and trucks, with the stipulation that 
recipients give their current vehicle to someone else. The waves of 
generosity continue to ripple through town.

On this day, Erb speaks for five minutes before slowly and 
apologetically closing his door.

Gentle and unassuming, he is visibly fatigued from the media 
attention and the deluge of house calls from well-wishers and new "friends."

A day later, he politely deflects an interview request, but then 
relents, briefly recounting the latest of a series of actions that 
have kept the town of 11,500 talking ever since his Nov. 2 win. 
Uptown one morning, he read that somebody had set off a fire 
extinguisher in the local gymnastics club, ruining its foam landing pads.

So, "on my way home I went and cut them a $ 5,000 cheque," he says in 
his soft baritone, his eyes twinkling behind his large shaded 
spectacles. "I don't do this ( type of philanthropy normally), but 
their need was great and my kids all were in sports.

"Nice talking to you. Goodbye."

Marijuana activist

Long before his lottery win made him famous, the man who spent - and 
promises to keep spending - his summers working as a brick and 
concrete tradesman was well known in Terrace for other things.

In the 2001 provincial election, he was a candidate for the B. C. 
Marijuana Party, running a campaign that focused on legalizing and 
decriminalizing marijuana. During the election, he gave out free 
joints along the campaign trail.

His generosity wasn't restricted to marijuana. Over the years, Erb 
has been known to drop off doughnuts or flowers to local businesses 
and give friends antiques and collectibles he has found at garage 
sales. "I've done it all my life," Erb says. "I'm just able to give 
more ( now), but I've always spread my meagre offerings."

As he doles out much more substantial gifts, townspeople echo a 
common refrain: Bob Erb is what he is.

He has hand-delivered $ 1,000 or $ 10,000 "Merry Christmas" cheques 
to at least 14 small businesses, deciding what they receive based on 
their number of employees.

While Erb is reluctant to discuss his philanthropy, others in this 
modest town are happy to chat about how the $ 10,000 cheques are 
helping pay down mortgages, write off debt, finance kids' braces and 
even indulge in some Christmas spirit.

Janette and Michael Searle stare out at their two pet goats munching 
in their snowy yard and beam as they talk about the $ 10,000 gift 
from their nextdoor neighbour.

The Searles were always friendly with Erb; Michael and Erb would 
commiserate last winter as they blew the snow off their respective 
driveways before sunrise.

Still, Michael was surprisedwhen Erb dropped by several Saturdays ago 
and asked him to fill out a cheque as Searle was putting the kettle 
on for morning tea.

"I couldn't even focus, I had trouble writing my name and figuring 
out where to put the name and number," Searle said. "By the time the 
water was done boiling, he was on his way out. I shook his hand and 
said ' thank you' and he said, ' Merry Christmas.'

The money will help finish a downstairs bathroom, which will complete 
a day-care centre they hope to start in their basement. "I think it's 
given a lot of hope to a lot of people and it's really inspiring," Searle said.

Erb plans to set up a charitable foundation in the coming weeks to 
begin doling out $ 2 million to non-profits that help the suffering 
people of Terrace. He's also clear about who won't be getting his 
cash - neither international aid organizations nor the SPCA will 
benefit from his generosity.

"My heart goes out to the Africans, the Asians and the homeless 
animals , but Africa and Asia and the animals aren't getting any of 
my money," Erb said. He said there may be an overflow "to the ( 
Prince) Rupert and Kitimat soup kitchens, but 100 per cent of the 
charitable donations are staying within Terrace."

Lest people think the well will soon run dry, Erb said he immediately 
tucked away $ 15 million into investments.

Erb won't say how much he has given to family and friends over the 
past few weeks, but said both his daughter and a close friend 
instantly became millionaires.

About two weeks after the big announcement, Bob's brother Bill 
arrived for a brief visit at the request of his younger brother.

Bill, a retired oil driller who has been comfortably entrenched in 
the Dominican Republic for the past eight years, wouldn't say whether 
he was expecting any huge sum of money from Bob. ("You don't look a 
gift horse in the mouth, do you?")

A tragic past

Growing up in Tommy Douglas's hometown of Weyburn, Sask., Bill says 
Bob was always generous to his three siblings . Bob was "good for 
sharing all the time," and "thought everybody should be equal," he 
says. But he was by no means their parents' favourite child. "They 
hated us all equal," Bill says wryly.

Bob's good luck follows a sad period of his life, when a series of 
events related to substance abuse ripped apart his family.

In the summer of 2006, his only son, Robert Joseph Erb, then 24, was 
charged with producing and trafficking nearly $ 2 million of 
marijuana near Okotoks, Alta., according to the Okotoks Western Wheel 

Two summers later, BJ, as he was known, was arrested in Terrace and 
charged with robbery. While out on bail, he died of a drug overdose.

Fifteen years before his son died, Erb separated from his wife, who 
had battled a cocaine addiction, and started raising the kids on his 
own, according to court documents. His wife died in 1998, five years 
after the separation.

Now that he has the money, Erb wants to tackle marijuana legalization 
head-on and has said he will spend about a million dollars on his 
campaign. He backs the federal NDP because of its enduring support 
for legalization.

Bill says he and his brother have always smoked marijuana, but they 
were never hippies and Bob "always worked and did what he did."

"From what I understand, more people die from smoking cigarettes than 
they do from smoking pot," Bill says. "Why should one be illegal and 
one be legal?"

Bob Erb hopes to fly a host of academics and advocates up to Terrace 
for a legalization conference in January.

He says he has no plans to leave northern B. C. and he wants to keep 
giving to the same community that has supported him through a life 
filled with highs and lows.

"I like Terrace," Erb says emphatically. "Hey, I've lived here for 43 
years, not because I had to, but because I like the territory and the people."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom