Woman teaches ABC’s of P’s Q’s

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 21, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

It all started with her grandmother’s ritual of having afternoon tea precisely at 4 o’clock. every afternoon.

&uot;None of my friends’ grandmothers did this, and as a child I wanted to know why,&uot; said Betty Thomas, a professional etiquette instructor and Smithfield resident. &uot;When I asked, she handed me an etiquette book.

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&uot;My grandmother had a great impact on me by teaching me social graces and the fun parts of being a lady.&uot;

Thus began Thomas’ lifelong love affair with the art of etiquette and social graces.

Her hobby gradually evolved into a career after she taught her first etiquette class at age 17 in New Bern, N.C.

More than 35 years later, Thomas, 52, leaves in her wake a string of etiquette-related accomplishments: teacher; founder of two Raleigh, N.C. etiquette schools; and host of her own television and radio call-in shows.

Callers came up with all sorts of questions – how long a bride can wait before writing thank-you notes, how to handle the multitude of issues that can crop up at dinner parties, to name a few, she recalled.

Etiquette schools aren’t just a place for children to learn their P’s and Q’s, Thomas said. Many students enrolled in the country’s etiquette schools are college graduates or corporate executives wanting to gain an additional edge in the professional world, she said, adding that even Harvard University offers a business etiquette course.

Teaching people of all ages how to gracefully handle social and professional situations is becoming increasing popular, Thomas said.

&uot;I think what’s most appealing is just knowing that what I do can make such a big difference in people’s lives,&uot; she said.

Name? Betty Thomas.

Age? 52.

Hometown? I live in Smithfield, Va.

Family? Three children, ages 32, 31, and 14.

Career/Occupation? Public speaker on the subject of social graces/etiquette.

Volunteer activities? Work with Girl and Boy Scout troops/ teach etiquette for a small fee.

Favorite thing about Suffolk? That people associated with Riddick’s Folly care so much about having programs that will make a difference in the lives of children.

Describe your vision of downtown Suffolk five years from now? Historic preservation along with new ideas will certainly portray Suffolk as a town of yesterdays and tomorrows for future residents and natives of Suffolk.

Why did you pursue you chosen career? I started reading etiquette books as a child, wondering why we do the things we do in our culture. I started teaching at the age of 17 and have taught for 35 years, including at two private schools in Raleigh, N.C., where classes were held during the day, evening and after school.

Favorite thing about your job? The smiles on the children’s faces when they learn so many secrets pertaining to table manners, hand-shaking, introductions, correspondence and official protocol. The children go home more self-confident and anxious to share all they have learned in the classes.

Least favorite thing about your job? Nothing! I love teaching etiquette for social and corporate settings. It’s a fun, fulfilling career.

What accomplishments are you proudest of? So many! Everything from teaching kindergarten children to the corporate executives, having my own television talk and radio call-in shows on etiquette, and writing an etiquette video that is shown in classrooms across the United States.

Who or what motivates and inspires you? Life inspires me. The one thing our culture needs to do is slow down and take more time on a day-to-day basis to be more civil toward one another. Our culture is in such a hurry; the &uot;me generation&uot; and the &uot;I’m going to get mine, you get yours&uot; attitude has hurt this country more than we realize.

Favorite way to spend free time? Playing tennis or golf with my children. All of my children are fantastic tennis players and this is a family sport that has been a tradition for many years. My children grew up playing tennis and golf both as a sport and a business event. A lot of business deals are made on both the golf course and tennis court.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with others? &uot;Treat people the way you want to be treated.&uot;

What ingredients are in the recipe for a good life? If you are a parent, be a good one. Take time to talk to your children, get to know your children, and make sure you give them the basics in life. Give them love and teach them to honor and respect each other and the adults and senior citizens in their lives.

We all have our 15 minutes of fame in this life. How would you spend you time in the spotlight? Thanking my parents and grandparents for teaching me the basics in life. I was always taught to ask myself what I can do for the world rather than what the world can do for me and that we all have a reason for being here. We all need to try and make a difference in this world, whether it is by being a good parent, teacher, coach, boss, etc.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Nothing! If I were not me, I would want to be me!