Richard Specht and his son, Rees, who inspired a pay-it-forward movement after his death in 2012. (Photo: Richard Specht/ReesSpecht Life)
A “pay-it-forward” movement in honor of a 22-month-old who died nearly three years ago inspired a monumental act of kindness last week — a $3,000 tip on a $43.50 restaurant bill.
Richard Specht and his wife, Samantha, started a movement they call “ReesSpecht Life” after their son, Richard — who was nicknamed Rees — drowned in a pond in their backyard in October 2012. “It happened two days before Hurricane Sandy. Then we went through the storm and lost our power for two weeks and it was a nightmare on top of a nightmare,” Specht, an eighth grade science teacher, tells Yahoo Parenting. “We had people coming from all over to help us — a landscaping company came and redid our yard and wouldn’t take any payment from us, friends and family brought food and wouldn’t let us pay them back. So we decided to pay people back anonymously. If we couldn’t pay it back we’d pay it forward.”
The Spechts, who have three other children, launched a mission to inspire others to perform random acts of kindness, and to do so using “ReesSpecht Life” cards, that read, in part, “possession of this card is a solemn promise to pay it forward and perform a random act of kindness … please share the story of how you received this card …” But Specht, who lives in Sound Beach, NY, says he never expected the kind of grand gesture he heard about last week.
Richard Specht’s former student left this $3,000 tip for a waitress in honor of Specht’s late son, Rees. (Photo: Richard Specht/ReesSpecht Life)
“I got an email from this young lady on Wednesday night with a photo attached, and I couldn’t believe it. My mouth hit the floor,” Specht says. The email was from a waitress who works in Times Square, and she told Specht that she had received the tip of a lifetime — $3,000 — and a note explaining the ReesSpecht life movement. “I started crying. I really wanted to run upstairs and wake up my wife, but I just couldn’t. So instead I looked at one of Rees’s pictures and I talked to him and I said ‘I can’t believe you inspired this.’ It was a surreal moment.”
The note on the receipt read: “Thank you for your kindness and humility. My teacher in middle school had such a difficult experience a few years ago which has sparked me to do this. My only requirements are: 1) Go to ReesSpechtLife.com and learn. 2) Don’t let ‘Pay it forward’ end with you. 3) Since it’s about the idea and not about you, or me, if you decide to share this, don’t use either of our names! Thank you for being around for all of my shows on and off Broadway. I hope that someday someone gives as much love and happiness into the world as you do.”
Specht says he recognized the name on the bill (which he still isn’t sharing) as a student he taught 10 years ago, but hasn’t communicated with since. “I’ve had 1,500 students, so I lose touch with a lot of them,” he says. “This was a kid who always hung out in my classroom, he was that kid who was always helping out other kids, so it didn’t surprise me who it was. I just didn’t realize how successful he’s been.” The tipper is now a performer on Broadway, Specht says. “He knows this waitress as someone who is always there for him and supports him at his shows.”
This week, Specht reconnected with the former student on Facebook. “I just said, ‘Thank you. I can’t believe you did this.’ He was very humble about it and said, ‘This was something I felt the need to do. I wanted to do something nice and I had it in my power to do something nice, so I did it,’” Specht says. “I didn’t know what to say other than thank you. But I did say to him, ‘The single most important thing you did was put a smile on my wife’s face.’ When you lose a child you always carry that pain, and she had that smile that I want to see all the time. I was just so happy to see it.”
Richard Specht’s son, Rees, drowned in 2012, and has since inspired random acts of kindness all over the world. (Photo: Richard Spect/ReesSpecht Life)
While this might have been the largest financial act of kindness in Rees’ honor, Specht says every one of the ReesSpecht good deeds brings him joy. “We lose track of the fact that it’s the small things we do that cumulatively make a difference,” he says. “I want people to focus on those small acts so we can regain that sense of community and compassion and respect. I get excited when somebody pays for a coffee for someone.”
To date, Specht says they have distributed 100,000 of the pay-it-forward cards, though he imagines there have been even more kind acts in Rees’ memory. “The first one I ever gave out, at the Dunkin’ Donuts near my house, I got a message from the girl who worked the drive-thru that night saying that every car paid for the car behind them until the morning rush was over. So that was one card and a lot of amazing acts,” Specht says. “I want to make the world a kinder place.”