PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of the most famous figures in Oregon, known in her company advertising as “One Tough Mother,” died over the weekend. Gert Boyle, the Chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear, passed away at the age of 95.
Her nickname and image became synonymous with the company over the years as she was featured in numerous campaigns, but her toughness went far beyond her image.
Boyle fled Nazi Germany as a child with her parents. Her father started the Columbia hat company here in Portland in 1938. Her husband later took over, but when he died suddenly, she and her son Tim, who was a college student at the time, decided not to sell the floundering business. Instead, she kept it going, and built it into the multi-billion dollar company it is today.
When asked how she made it work, Boyle’s son responded, “Well, I think it was really about determination, guts, and saying we’re not going to not win.”
Watch the full interview with Gert’s son, Tim Boyle
“Her persona as a tough mother was well-deserved,” said her son Tim Boyle, Columbia Sportswear CEO. “She went through a lot of difficulties growing up in Nazi Germany, coming here not speaking English, having her husband die suddenly at a time when the family business was stressed. Those were all difficult times, and she—through real determination—was able to make success out of those events.”
When asked if Boyle was a tough mother on Tim, he joked, “She was way tougher to me than to my sisters—she liked them way better.”
Tim described her as a great mom, but knew nothing about the business until she jumped in after her husband died. She was working every day in the office until about two months ago.
“When I think about Gert, she’s someone who I can rely on to tell me the truth. I always leave her office with a smile on my face,” said Dr. Brian Druker, Director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute.
Boyle was famous for her sense of humor as well as generosity—she donated $100 million to the Knight Cancer Institute. That aid led to hundreds of researchers being hired. The donation was during a fundraising challenge by Phil and Penny Knight.
“I said, ‘Can I tell Phil Knight?’ And she said, ‘Get him on the phone.’ So I got him on the phone and she said to him, ‘Just wanted to let you know the little old lady down the road chipped in too,'” recalled Druker.
Watch the full interview with Dr. Brian Druker
Columbia Sportswear has asked for donations to the Oregon Health and Sciences Knight Cancer Institute in lieu of flowers. There will be a celebration of life for his mother, said Tim. It is still in the planning stages.