Few people can point to a day their lives profoundly changed. I can. For me, it was November 7, 1977. I needed a job, Salinas Travel needed an agent and even though I had never been in a travel agency, the State of California employment office thought we would be the perfect match.
How right they were!
Alice Kimber and her husband Richard owned Salinas Travel. Dick was affable and a pleasure with whom to work. Mrs. Kimber was not. She was a no-nonsense straight shooter with a mercurial personality and razor-sharp tongue.
Mrs. Kimber taught me the ins and outs of being a travel agent, but the lessons did not stop there. My mother was the epitome of class and grace, and as an Army officer’s wife, taught me the skills needed for formal teas, military reviews, even dinners with ambassadors. Having only worked fast food and retail, I had no idea how to translate those experiences into an office setting. Mrs. Kimber taught me by example. She arrived at the office each morning impeccably dressed, every hair in place, and expected as much from me. If I were to wear nail polish, there were to be no chips. If I wore makeup, no smudges. Skirts and dresses were preferred, but never without pantyhose. Bare legs were never acceptable. As a role model for professionalism, there was no one more qualified than Alice Kimber.
She also taught me two of my biggest life lessons. In the heat of the summer, a disheveled woman walked into the front door. Her clothes were well-worn, her hair wind-blown. There was dirt around the cuticles of her fingernails. She had on tattered tennis shoes. This “client” asked for Hawaii brochures, said she planned to travel in the fall. I showed her the section, chatted for a minute, and after she left turned to my colleagues and said, “like she’ll ever go to Hawaii!” There, in front of everyone, Mrs. Kimber let me know the woman was Polly Antle, who along with her husband Bud owned the largest iceberg lettuce fields in the United States, that she often picked her own produce to not add to the workload of their employees and was probably on her way home. Lesson one: humility. Lesson two: never judge a book by its cover. When Mrs. Antle came back to the agency to
book her very expensive luxury trip, she appeared ready for a photo shoot for any upscale magazine.
I would like to say that I grew to love Mrs. Kimber, but that would be a lie. Even though I was terrified in her presence, I will be forever in her debt: the chance she gave me on that November day led to a career than now spans more than 40 years.
The lessons learned remain.