Peggy Newfield revolutionized etiquette education for children. Founding her own company, Personal Best, Inc., in 1980, only laid the foundation for greater expansion. The American School of Protocol opened its doors in 2002 to a warm reception. Peggy has since welcomed over 10,000 students and is now a leading expert in etiquette. I sat down with Peggy to learn more about the woman who started it all. I would like to invite you to accompany me into her personal world!
By: Georgina Brown
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Warner Robins, Georgia, living on a farm with my relatives. It was a wonderful experience to be raised by such loving family and to live among all the special things that happen on the farm. There’s a certain kind of freedom in the countryside – I spent many hours caring for our animals and wandering the grounds.
What was your childhood like?
Warner Robins and Macon were small towns in Middle Georgia. I loved to sing and I had many opportunities to sing on the radio and television. Those were truly exciting times! My mother believed, as I do now, that exposure to the arts would build a solid foundation for education. The culture of the arts is our history, and familiarity with this history can help forge strong links with new acquaintances. My mother also stressed that a busy child was a happy child, so I attended piano, voice and dance lessons every day of the week.
What is your most-treasured childhood memory?
The farm was a treasure – truly! I loved lying in the fields, watching the clouds drift by and seeing their different shapes. But the memory that really stands out to me was when my uncle set aside one whole acre of land on which he planted thousands of beautiful flowers so that ladies from miles around could come and pick flowers for their small, Sunday-morning rural church services. As a result, I grew up surrounded by nature’s brilliant colors. My mother was a phenomenal gardener; we had flowers (or greenery in the winter!) on the table at every meal.
What was your mother like?
Well, in addition to her gift for gardening, she was a selfless woman… My father died two days before my first birthday and almost overnight, my mother had to become the breadwinner. Her dream was that I would have the education that she never had, so she put a lot of time and energy into that. She pushed me to always do my best. We were extremely close; she was my best friend. It was a wonderful partnership.
So now that you live here, what is the best thing about Atlanta?
Opportunity! Atlanta offers every opportunity – of cuisine… of a world-class zoo… of botanical gardens… and theater and symphony abound! There is so much to see and do. The city is always bustling, yet the people here are still so warm and open.
What has been your favorite travel destination?
For four separate years, I had the pleasure of taking ten girls to the UK for a week in London and a week in the countryside. We spent our days with titled people (Lords, Earls, and Dukes) in their estates; it was like a fairytale for all of us. And the gardens! I cannot express how gorgeous they were with the roses and the perfect sweeping lawns! Our days were nonstop excitement but our evenings were just as great. The dinners were fancy affairs and afterwards, we played games and had discussions over tea in the drawing room. We were making face-to-face connections with exciting people, both young and old.
What this did for these girls was important. Their parents sent them to be exposed to fine culture, architecture, art, shopping and people. This was a glitz trip, yes, but the girls also learned so much from this exposure. Having this impact was the highlight of all my travels. The opportunities for both the girls and me have been astounding – coming from my simple childhood, I never could have dreamed of all the opportunities that have arisen. Another highlight was training our U.S. Space Team… loved those astronauts!
I’m dying to know: what is your favorite accessory in your closet?
It’s got to be the big rhinestone spider that I bought in London on one of the trips. Every time I put it on my shoulder (yes, it is that big!), I think of my time with the girls in London.
What does etiquette mean to you?
Etiquette truly is how you live your life. The word “etiquette” means ticket in French, and what this ticket does is allow you to actually have the kind of day that you dream of. Kindness and thoughtfulness bring only kindness and thoughtfulness back to you. I wish schools would recognize the importance of character education… Something needs to be done to help children, young people, and adults connect to one another. Technology is not doing that! Children and adults are spending so much time “screening” instead of communicating in person with others. I want to truly make a difference. To me, etiquette is the ticket to make that happen.
What lessons have you learned from running your own business?
Well, first be ready to adapt. I always said that I would only work with little people, not big people. But I learned to be flexible and offer what clients wanted. And I experienced the power of word-of-mouth. I never solicited business in the early years. But in two years, we went from having no colleges under contract to having 22 universities sign up for an MBA etiquette program. Never underestimate the power of reputation!
Finally, I recognize just how important it is to make personal connections. I like to call my potential clients to begin and establish a relationship with them; I want to know who they are! It has always been my belief that if you keep your classes tiny –no more than 11 people – you can give individuals so much more attention. We make our training personal and real – we bring people into our home. That’s unheard of! And yet, so many of our graduates follow our model because you really create a life situation. The students learn house rules just by being here. It is so much better than sitting in a conference room and being lectured to.
What advice would you give to women and men who want to enter the field?
Be passionate! Love the journey. I got a call from a graduate a few days ago and she said that every time she teaches a class, she wants to call to thank me for changing her life. These feelings and their comments are what has been the best part of what I do.