Article by Georgiann Potts and Photography by Kelly Moore Clark
A family trip to Galveston, Texas, is travel agent Dianne Boyd Newcomer’s earliest travel memory. Even today, decades later, she remembers the joy of jumping waves there with her father and sisters. Her love for travel has been a mainstay throughout her life, and has given her an enviable career in the travel industry. Her father wanted her to “broaden her horizons” by “getting out there” and seeing what life had to offer. Dianne has done just that, setting a standard for professionalism, honesty, integrity, and friendly competence not always easily found. For her excellent work and for her dedication to the traveling public that she and her husband, Rob, have served for nearly half a century, Dianne Boyd Newcomer is our July Bayou Icon.
Dianne Boyd grew up in the small East Texas town of Winnsboro. Her parents, Joe Kent Boyd and Moorene Ward Boyd, were both college graduates. Her dad graduated from Texas A&M and her mother from East Texas State University. Joe was a quiet, civic-minded businessman who built and managed WEB Filters, a successful oil filter manufacturing company, the town’s largest employer for many years. He served on the local school board and especially enjoyed the vibrant political arena of Texas politics. A Democrat, he switched parties and became a Republican before that became a popular thing to do. Dianne describes her dad as a “. . . hardworking, whiskey drinking, Viceroy smoking man” who led by example and loved to go places. She adds that he was “funny, smart, and loving” and encouraged his daughters to dream big and think beyond the Winnsboro city limits.
Dianne’s mother, Moorene, a former high school business teacher, may not have been the bread winner in the family, but Dianne says that she “ran the show” on the homefront. “She was the consummate three-meals-a-day perfect homemaker in charge of rearing three girls and keeping us on the straight and narrow,” Dianne remembers. Outgoing, kind, and easy to know, Dianne’s mother was loyal to her family and to her friends. She instilled in her daughters, Carolyn (who was barely a year older than Dianne) and Mary Linda (the baby of the family), the confidence to believe in themselves and encouraged them to always do their very best. Like her husband, she also led by example, teaching solid core values and the importance of family.
What Dianne’s parents did not share was an equal passion for “going places.” Still, her mother was a trooper. It was Dianne’s father who set the family out on most of their trips – some far, but more often nearby. “Sometimes it was just to Dallas, about 100 miles from Winnsboro, to stay in a motel,” Dianne recalls. For those road trips, Dianne’s mother would pack a picnic lunch with Vienna sausage, fried chicken, and Campbell’s pork and beans. “We loved it when the Stuckey’s chain was introduced – no more Vienna sausages on road trips!” Dianne says with a chuckle.
Growing Up in Winnsboro
Dianne attended elementary, middle, and high school in Winnsboro. She loved her hometown because everyone knew everyone else – typical for most small towns. Dianne always saw that familiarity as an advantage. “There were so many people who colored my world, and I am so grateful,” Dianne says. “Our small town was much like our own River Oaks School or St. Frederick High School here. Kids participated in everything and even if you were not the best, it was all about showing up,” she adds. “Not everyone wins is a good life lesson to learn, too.”
When the family got its first black and white television, it was a landmark day. “Suddenly the world came to us, and it was not always that sweet little world of Lassie, My Friend Flicka, Saturday morning cartoons, Zorro, Paladin, and Gunsmoke,” Dianne says. “The ‘60’s were a crazy time – our president was killed, Martin Luther King led marches, Vietnam raged, America seemed to be splitting at the seams with protests, and then there were those peace-loving hippies that our family actually drove from East Texas to California to see – along with about an hour or two stop to see the Grand Canyon, of course!”
Every summer during high school and throughout her university years, Dianne worked on the assembly line at her dad’s filter factory. “This was not an option,” Dianne says. “Daddy expected it. Besides, I made $50 a week!” Dianne and her older sister, Carolyn, worked together at the factory. “We walked 10 blocks to the plant, punched the clock at 8am, and – like everybody else – worked our eight hours,” Dianne explains. “There was one benefit. For the 30-minute lunch break we got to ride home with the boss and enjoy the homecooked meal Mama had waiting for us.”
Dianne learned valuable lessons while working at the factory those summers. She laughs and says that at first the other employees gave her sister and her easy tasks and preferential treatment. After the two had earned respect by being hard workers willing to do their jobs every day, they developed friendships and were accepted as an important part of the production team. “Standing by a conveyor belt for eight hours laughing, gossiping, and hearing the challenges some people face on a daily basis was eye-opening for two little girls who knew they had everything they needed, but certainly not everything they wanted,” Dianne says.
In 1966 when Dianne was a senior at Winnsboro High and serving as a student council officer, she and others were recruited by the principal to lead the integration movement at their school. Dianne frankly admits that she had never thought about how unfair it was for the Black students in her small town to be bussed to another school 15 miles away.
These were historic, turbulent times for everyone, and yet the people in Winnsboro made it work. “I met black kids my age and was surprised that they were just as scared as we were as we all faced this new world,” Dianne remembers. “We became friends, we quit seeing each other as ‘them’ and ‘us,’ and my world got bigger and better.”
A Red Ford Mustang and Texas Tech
Dianne’s sister Carolyn had gone to Texas Tech University the year before, and now it was Dianne’s turn to leave home to see the world. Their parents gave the two girls a 1966 Mustang (red with white racing stripes!) and they were soon off to Lubbock to fulfill their dad’s dream for them – to “broaden their horizons.”
Dianne still remembers the remarkable differences that came with moving to a large city after having grown up in a small town. “Daddy’s idea that we should see something different was pretty much on target as life on the Cap Rock in a city as large as Lubbock and a university as large as Tech was most certainly different,” Dianne says.
Dianne loved her years at Texas Tech and loved being a Red Raider. She majored in English and minored in history, and toyed with the idea of becoming an airline stewardess (career options were limited for women then with being a teacher, a secretary, a nurse, or a stewardess pretty much it) for a time, but decided to pursue a career in teaching. Her first job after graduation was teaching English at Fox Tech High School in downtown San Antonio, Texas.
Losing a Coin Toss Leads to Love
Dianne found love because she lost a coin toss. While home from Texas Tech one summer, the Boyd girls got a call from Illa Belle Johnson, a lady they barely knew from the First Baptist Church. Her nephew, Rob Newcomer, was visiting her before he was deployed to Turkey for 18 months by the Air Force. She wanted to know if the girls could show him the town. “We were definitely surprised by the request, and decided to flip a coin to see who would do it,” Dianne says. “I lost and got stuck with the assignment. That coin toss led me to marry him three years later.”
The newlyweds lived in San Antonio for two years. Once Rob’s tour of duty was over, however, the couple moved to Monroe so that Rob could finish his degree at Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM). Dianne hoped to continue teaching, but in the early 70’s Louisiana had plenty of teachers. She found a job teaching at Bish Mathis Business School and Rob began working at Monroe Travel Service, an agency his mother, Irene Newcomer Solomon, had successfully converted from train to airline travel.
The more Rob got into the travel business, the more he liked it – and the more he talked about it. Dianne noticed his passion and when an opening became available at the office and Rob’s mother offered her a job, Dianne jumped at it. From that point on until COVID stopped travel cold, Dianne never regretted that move.
Over time, Rob and Dianne had two daughters, Robyn and Lori. Robyn and her husband Jason Nichols and sons, Thomas, Tanner, and Jude, live in Madison, Mississippi. Lori and her husband Kyle Thompson and daughter Madelyn live in Monroe. Both girls share their parents’ love for travel, but their career aspirations lie in other fields. “I always told my girls to shoot for the moon because even if you fail, you will be falling among the stars!” Dianne says. “Might as well go big or not at all.”
Even though she had a busy career, Dianne worked hard to be involved with her children and their activities. She served as PTO president at every school her girls attended even while working fulltime because she wanted to have a hand in what was going on with their education. When she does finally retire, Dianne hopes to be more active in the community and to find more time to be with their friends. “Rob and I have met so many interesting people over the years that we would like to know better, but we’ve just never had the time to do it. We hope to, soon.”
A Career in Travel
Dianne quickly found that working as a travel agent can be challenging. For one thing, she had to educate herself about the world and all of the places there are to visit. “When I started working at Monroe Travel Service, I did not even know Hawaii had more than one island to visit,” she says. “It has been a great educational journey and one of the reasons why I still love being a travel agent.”
Dianne drew upon her assembly line experience to help her get to know her clients well. She was a good listener, a skill that is especially essential in the travel business. By getting to really know her clients, she could help them make the best travel decisions. As she developed relationships with her clients, she became even more comfortable in her job. “When I was a newbie in the business, my mother-in-law (and boss) constantly reminded me that the slow talking, country farmer client in overalls could very well be a learned graduate of Harvard!” Dianne says. “As I had on the assembly line, I learned never to judge a book by its cover.”
After nearly 50 years in the travel business, the Newcomers have had a variety of interesting experiences. Dianne and Rob have sent leisure travelers all over the world, helped mission groups navigate in remote areas including Biafra and Central America, arranged football charters, moved the Grambling band members and all their instruments to performances all over the world, and joined with three other top Louisiana travel agencies to manage the multi-million-dollar state travel account for all government agencies and colleges. “We have seen it all – from a stranded tuba crate to a stranded traveler!” Diane says. “Sometimes miracles happened because we knew the right people or knew who to ask the right question to in order to resolve the issue. We have always done our best to keep our clients ‘covered’ before and during their trips.”
In many ways, Monroe Travel Service is an anomaly. It remains a “mom and pop” agency in the travel marketplace. Because of that, it can provide a level of personal service that is critical today. And because of that personal service, Monroe Travel Service has many repeat customers – clients who have traveled with their help for years. One key to that level of service is the level of research Dianne does. “I read and talk incessantly to leaders in our industry about destinations, plus our travelers are excellent sources,” Dianna explains.
An Unexpected Bump in the Road
On March 18, 2020, Monroe Travel Service shut its doors as the world was caught in the grip of a worldwide pandemic. At that time, Monroe Travel was a $3 million dollar travel agency. Dianne and Rob faced a harsh reality – travel would be virtually nonexistent for the foreseeable future. With their clients always foremost in mind, Dianne and the team spent untold hours securing refunds and re-booking travel for their clients. “For almost 2 years, we had basically no income except for trips to Mexico and the Caribbean which were the only places open for travelers to go,” Dianne says. “Thanks heavens we had those markets to sell since the rest of the world was pretty much out of the picture.”
There were times during the pandemic when the Newcomers thought about shutting the business permanently, but they just couldn’t. They had a number of clients who had future cruise credits and deposits, and they had three younger agents who wanted to continue working in the business. “We plodded on, and I am so glad we ‘took it on the chin’ and hung in,” Dianne says. “It paid off because the summer of 2022 is record-breaking. We are so grateful to our loyal travelers for hanging in there with us! Without such loyal clients we would not still be in business today.”
As would be expected, Monroe Travel Service operations had to adapt to the new reality that COVID ushered in. Their four travel agents began working remotely. In addition, Dianne had to become more efficient in the company’s use of time and money. The target market became focused on travelers wanting help in planning an ocean or river cruise, a tour, or a special one-of-a-kind trip (perhaps revisiting earlier travel destinations that had been especially meaningful). The agency no longer handles corporate travel or just point-to-point airline ticketing. “COVID remains a travel industry nightmare, but we are all so happy to see travel rebounding this summer that we are willing to wade through unbelievable hold times and poor service to make it happen and get issues resolved,” Dianne says.
According to Dianne, the pandemic crisis helped to identify those companies that would best serve Monroe Travel Service’s clients after the pandemic. Some refused to refund her clients’ money, and they were crossed off the list for future bookings. “Our business is built on personal integrity and trust, and we expect the same from the tour companies and cruise lines that stood by us during the crisis,” Dianne explains. “Our memories are long, and we will make future recommendations to our clients based on what we have learned. We have also fought too many battles for our clients to ‘test’ someone without a proven track record.”
What About Private Travel?
When one’s career involves travel 24/7, what does one do for fun? In Dianne’s case, travel is what makes her heart sing. One might say that travel is both her vocation and her hobby. The Newcomers love to “get away” and play tourist whenever the opportunity arises. Clearly some of their travel is business-related – scouting potential destinations, for example, or trying out a new cruise. Not all of it is work, however. Every summer Dianne loves to return to Ogunquit, Maine, with Rob to just wander around and eat wonderful food for about a week. This is the kind of escape that attracts them both.
On Dianne’s travel “bucket list” is a return to Italy to just wander about. She says that by being mostly unscheduled at times, she has discovered a special love for France and Switzerland that she might have missed on a more structured trip. She wants to do the same in Italy. They have a nephew living in Israel, and they have plans to visit his family there very soon after spending a few days in Turkey. This fall will find them exploring the Cornwall region of England with relatives Paula and Jim Burgess.
When they are on vacation, Dianne drives and Rob navigates. “I can make a turn on a dime (perhaps from those years driving the Mustang?) and hang with the fastest drivers on the autobahn,” Dianne explains. “Rob, on the other hand, can see greater distances and read faster, so he navigates. We make a pretty good team.”
When asked recently if she had experienced any unusual events while traveling, Dianne was quick to respond. Siri (an Apple app that is a multi-function personal assistant) has contributed to their biggest travel challenges. “Siri has led us into farmers’ fields in France and onto some very curious backroads,” Dianne explains. “In a small hill town in Italy, some locals literally had to pick our little car up and turn it around because Siri had guided us into a one-way street!”
Travelers are Dreamers
Dianne has lived life to the fullest from childhood forward to today. At every turn she has chosen to reach beyond her surroundings and discover new things. While she was still in college and visiting the beaches of California, astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. She could never have imagined back then that during her lifetime travel agents would be able to sell tickets for space travel – or that she would be in the travel business and able to sell such a trip.
Dianne has a motto – “Travelers are dreamers.” She believes that there will always be people just like her dad in that little town in East Texas who want their children to broaden their horizons and go see what is out there waiting for them to discover.
One of Dianne’s favorite quotes is by St. Augustine: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” Dianne has spent countless hours over her lifetime, happily reading the world’s book — page by page.