Treva Mayo serves at the beck and call of her employers. She cooks up their early morning breakfasts, prepares their private dinner parties, chauffeurs them or their children around, and runs their households when they’re gone. She’ll even whip the flower garden into shape while brewing an exquisite pot of tea for guests. She’s a professionally-trained butler with more manners and etiquette proficiency than a roomful of debutantes.
While pouring an aromatic cup of Earl Gray lavender tea at her home recently, this energetic 64-year-old opened up about how she became a certified butler and etiquette consultant.
Buttling (the act of being a butler) has been dominated by males for thousands of years. However, ladies, like Treva, are now more readily accepted as the ones put in charge of managing high-end households. The world’s rapid influx of people reaching millionaire status, especially in China, other Asian countries, and in the Middle East, is tapping the market for trained butlers. These specific cultures are vying for female butlers.
Treva says this industry is a “huge business” and that “private butlers are on the rise.” It used to be that this line of servitude was passed from one generation to another. It’s not that way anymore.
“When I started looking and applying for butler school,” Treva says, “I wanted to go to England but they (the schools) didn’t take women. Now they do.”
It wasn’t that Treva passionately desired to become a butler. It was the next logical step in her search to learn the intricacies of protocol, manners and etiquette. She possessed the willpower to “do it the right way.” She defines it by saying, “Manners are the way we treat people around us every day.”
Covering our pot of tea with a tea “cozy” to keep it warm, Treva looks sharp wearing her daily butler attire. Her short, coiffed, blonde hair adds a professional air to the black pencil skirt, white-collared blouse with dark scarf tied in a fluffy bow about her neck and comfortable black shoes. Describing her beloved vocation, including serving Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and attending many other notables of our time, her narrative, at times, sounds like an episode from the popular TV series Downton Abbey.
“You are very devoted to the family you work for,” explains Treva. “You know your family. You know what they’ll ask for before they ask for it. You know what they want before they want it. You must be determined. It’s a very lucrative business if you’re in the right place. It’s also exciting as you meet incredible people and have experiences you never would in any other part of life.”
Treva side-notes that she prefers a “more relaxed household” rather than the stricter or more formal one like that of the home portrayed on Downton Abbey or even Queen Beatrix’s court. Currently, she works for one Billings family using her cooking talents, while, for another family, she’s their personal assistant and gardener. She oversees the house when they’re not home.
The biggest requirement, according to this mother of three and grandmother of three, “You have to have a caring heart. Service has to come from your heart. Service is taking care of other people. I’ve always loved serving people. It’s an honor.”
Growing up on a ranch near Thermopolis, Wyoming, the oldest of six, Treva instinctively knew how to care for others. She worked on the ranch, helped with her siblings and at the age of 12, cared for an older, wealthy couple near her home. From the older generations, she learned a lot about manners and running an upper-end household.
This is when she decided she enjoyed this type of service. She perfected her culinary skills, cooking privately in formal homes. She fine-tuned her knack for housekeeping and managing estates. She also built a catering business. “I had been catering for about 15 years,” says Treva, “and saw horrendous things people did at events.”
Her bright, green eyes widen as she continues, “At a state high school sports banquet, by the time the event ended, there was not one leaf left on the Martha Washington geranium centerpieces and parts of the tablecloths had been torn out. I was just horrified,” she says. “I went home and told my husband Larry that someone’s got to change this!”
Treva discovered the Protocol School of Washington after that frightful occasion. Just one year later, she took an etiquette class in Tyson Square at the Ritz Carlton in Alexandria, Virginia. “The woman that taught the class had been an attaché to our armed services and her husband was a general.” With tears welling, Treva recalls how thankful she’s been to have known this remarkable lady whose mission was to teach people the art of manners.
“She’s about 96 years old now. Her name was Dorthea Johnson, an amazing lady. She taught us the right way. She said she had to teach before it was all lost, as people don’t use manners.” Following a slight pause, she adds, “After that banquet, I agreed.” Treva continued her education in social and business etiquette under the tutelage of Ms. Johnson and went on to start to teach her own corporate etiquette, tea etiquette and children’s classes in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. “There’s a big difference between business and social etiquette,” she points out.
“It’s important for business people when attending business banquets and parties to know the proper way to approach a group, hand out business cards and to work the room. Being really savvy is a fine art. We’re in competition for American jobs and the Europeans already know how to do this.” Etiquette, explains Treva, is simply “the set of rules that teach us how to do things the right way.”
Treva’s strive for propriety propelled her to take on the challenge of her life. She enrolled and was accepted to the International Butler Academy in the Netherlands. As the oldest student at age 57, the only American, she was also the only one unable to speak multiple languages. “Thank God they taught it in English,” expresses Treva.
The school started in September, drawing to a close before Christmas. It boasted a grueling agenda and was headed by a former embassy butler. “I thought my dad was tough,” laughs Treva, “this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!”
She clearly recalls an early cold morning in Amsterdam when she was put to the test. Dressed in the customary butler uniform of black tailcoat, vest, white shirt with “a real tie” and slacks or skirt, Treva and her fellow students arrived at an old, pillared stone church for an event held once every five years. Queen Beatrix was scheduled to arrive and ceremoniously honor the country’s top business.
An event like this gave the students hands-on experience, however, they were judged on ability. “We were dedicated 2,000 points to start and would lose points based on how we set up, how we ate lunch, how we did everything,” says Treva. “I was at the top of my class until this event when I made one faux pas.” Treva’s itty bitty mistake landed on the front page of every major newspaper in the region.
When the Queen arrived in her limo, the newbie-butlers waited for her along the courtyard’s picket fence. For security purposes, the group moved with the Queen along her route. Each student carried behind his or her back a small, white wooden plate displaying a letter on its front.
“When we got on the stage,” Treva recounts, “we raised our hands to reveal the name of the winning business. I (inadvertently) tipped my fingers so that my letter ‘K’ was a lazy K. I had to face the head butler who owned the academy. It was the worst thing having to face him.”
Treva made it through the academy slipping from the number one slot to number three. “I felt fortunate to graduate as one girl had a complete nervous breakdown and didn’t graduate. Two received just certificates of completion.”
Looking back, she wouldn’t trade her training for all the tea in the world. Her experiences and the honor of serving others trump the arduous work and the selfless commitment. She enjoys what she does and insists there is still more to accomplish.
“I want to give back to the community I live in,” asserts Treva. “I want to teach corporate etiquette classes, women’s business etiquette classes and teach etiquette in family homes.” She also plans furthering her own education by taking a linens class and a silver class. “I love to polish silver,” she beams.
As you would probably guess, Treva’s duties never cease. Her love for serving and teaching others keeps her hopping. Her job is unique. She’s a butler extraordinaire who cherishes the honor of serving from the heart.
To inquire about corporate, women’s business or children/family etiquette classes or having a proper tea party served at an event, you may reach Treva Mayo, Butler & Etiquette Consultant, at 406-871-7911 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.