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A Positive Voyage

Wilma Boyd’s business savvy and likeability has taken her to far places.

Erik Kellar

Wilma Boyd is a magnetic force. Outwardly, her colorful, meticulously crafted ensembles, soft cinnamon hair, bright eyes and welcoming grin are qualities that make her stand out in a full crowd. But it’s her vivacious spirit and intrepid nature that leaves a lasting effect on others. It’s also what’s backed her success.

When Boyd was just a small, freckle-faced girl growing up on a Kentucky dairy farm, her mother, nicknamed Sunshine for her ability to light up a room, instilled in her the importance of being polite.
“It was important for my mother that we treat everybody with respect and that we try to say something nice to everyone every day to make them feel better about themselves,” Boyd recalls. “That was her philosophy, and I try to live that way.”

Some might say she goes beyond that. Boyd received her first major opportunity to help others following her stint in a Mrs. America pageant. She reluctantly agreed to enter the event at the coaxing of her late husband, Bill, when they were a growing family in Pittsburgh. Boyd charmed judges with her graciousness and placed third out of 49 statewide contestants. She then became in-demand as a public speaker.

Boyd taught a small charm school at the Pittsburgh YMCA and held glamour lessons at a private Catholic school. She’d mostly share simple beauty tips, but she realized how much boosting the confidence in women fulfilled her.

“I loved it. I loved the transformation I could see [in students],” Boyd says. “Anything I can do to help someone. If it can help in any way or lift a burden … or if you can find someone who is genuinely interested to be there to help you, it’s pretty much the most important thing in life.”

She nailed similar gigs shortly thereafter, including hosting a television show for five years called W with Wilma, where she’d discuss primarily women’s topics and interview female figures.

In the early 1970s, she expanded her talents once more by accepting a position as the East Coast flight attendant supervisor of Trans World Airlines. After a series of interviews with unprepared applicants, Boyd opened a charm school in Pittsburgh to teach social grace and important interview tactics. It gave Boyd the platform to help women become strong and valuable in the working world. At the time, women were still struggling to move up the professional ladder, and Boyd gave them tools to even the playing field.

“We’ve come a long way and we still have a long way to go, so if I can help another woman, that’s important,” she says.

The Wilma Boyd Travel School, as it was known, graduated approximately 700 students each year and placed 80 percent of them in travel-related positions. She sold the company after nearly 15 years (which is still operating today as The Boyd School) to move to Naples and finish writing an educational book called Travel Agent, published by Simon & Schuster in 1989.

Unbeknownst to Boyd, her career within the airline industry had traveled with her to paradise. The late Earl Hodges, a funeral director and Hodges University namesake, was familiar with Boyd’s East Coast endeavors and approached her about partnering to open a travel business.

The pair founded Travel Professionals International with a handful of employees in 1984. She eventually gained sole ownership of the business and led several expansions and agency partnerships. Preferred Travel of Naples Inc., as it’s known today, is now regarded as the top agency in the area, with approximately 44 in-office employees and dozens of other independent contractors.

Boyd says the agency’s success would not be possible without her family or employees. “I’m an avid Wilma supporter,” says Karen Pickrum, director of marketing at Preferred Travel. “All of [the staff] are lifers here. We’re not going anywhere.”

Boyd has received recognition for her role as a person in command, and her likeability is perhaps a direct result of her mother’s teachings. “‘Always be nice to those people going up the ladder, because you never know when you’ll be going back down.’ That was always one of her sayings,” she says.

Boyd has undoubtedly created a sturdy empire, but she remains dedicated to philanthropy by involving herself— and her company—in a wealth of charities, panels and outreach programs. She currently serves on the board of the Latchkey League and regularly assists The Shelter for Abused Women & Children, Youth Haven, Junior Achievement and more.

She even continues to teach etiquette lessons here and there. She recently taught Immokalee Foundation students at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar proper dining protocols. It was a quick course, Boyd says, but one that could make students feel comfortable in future job interviews or formal luncheons.

“It’s important to extend goodness,” Boyd says. “If you do, it will come back to you.” She seems to be living proof of that.

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