Family honors loved one's last request with $500 tip to restaurant server

ctruman@herald-leader.comJuly 13, 2012 

Even after his death, Aaron Collins gives on.

The technician at Computers Plus Repair died July 7. He was 30.

His family wanted to honor his last request, which was to go to a restaurant for pizza and give the server a $500 tip. They raised the money and then went to Puccini's Smiling Teeth in Lexington's Chevy Chase Place on July 10 and surprised server Sarah Ward with $500.

Brother Seth Collins and his family made a video to show donors how their money to honor his brother's last wish was spent and posted it on YouTube.com.

It quickly went viral.

Seth Collins started a Web site, Aaroncollins.org, to raise money to "pay forward" big tips to other deserving servers. At last count, $20,000 had been donated.

"I had absolutely no idea this would happen," he said. "At some point, the Internet just grabbed hold."

Ward, 29, the server who received the unexpected $500 in a stack of $20 bills, said she was stunned and at first had trouble understanding her good fortune.

In the back of her mind she was thinking about the Diet Coke she needed to get for one table and the bill that needed delivering to another, she said.

Her first reaction: "I was nervous about holding that much money."

She shared her reward, giving $50 to each of the people who worked with her that day. She had $250 left over.

Ward is amazed to have become a sudden Internet star: "People in Australia are saying good things about me, and people in India."

The Collins family had roots in Floyd and Pike counties, where the children were home-schooled, but the family now mainly lives in the Lexington area. Seth Collins said his brother had worked making pizzas and also had been a handyman before going to work for the computer repair store. He had studied construction management at Almeda University, a distance-learning college.

Michael Johnson, owner of Computers Plus Repair on Pimlico Parkway, is married to Seth and Aaron's sister Rachel. He said Aaron Collins was such a diligent worker "he would stay after hours to mop the floor."

"He had a respect for the working person," Johnson said. "He always wanted to help people."

Aaron Collins also loved his dog Lexi, a part husky, devoting a photo album to the canine on his Facebook page.

The family plans to hand out tips at other Lexington restaurants, but they realize that at some point they might become too easy to recognize, and friends might have to accept the assignment of tipping.

With donations rolling in, there will be plenty of opportunities for surprises. Servers are "a group of people who he felt were underappreciated," Seth Collins said.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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