PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon legend and Columbia Sportswear chairwoman Gert Boyle died at the age of 95 Sunday morning.
The company’s matriarch was the Chairman of the Board of Directors since 1970. Columbia said Boyle held various jobs at the sportswear business, from all the way back to her sewing the first fishing vest to becoming President.
Her father founded Columbia Sportswear after the family fled Nazi Germany and settled in Portland. She took over the small outdoor clothing company after her husband died from a heart attack. At the time, she was a 46-year-old housewife and mother of three with no real business experience. But she helped build the struggling company into the brand giant it is today.
“She is an Oregon icon, an Oregon legend,” said Kerry Tymchuk, Executive Director of the Oregon Historical Society. He also helped co-author her book, One Tough Mother. He said Gert was “a pistol” and loved to laugh. She spearheaded some of the more humorous ad campaigns with her son that helped take Columbia from a company with half a million in annual sales to now over a billion.
Boyle was a beloved woman and leader. She was a pioneer in what was a male-dominated industry, inspiring women around the world to persevere through hard times and difficult situations. The company said her humor and business savvy was something sought by many people.
“Gert said one time, that if you asked if she could swim a mile in the ocean, she’d tell you ‘no way,'” said Tymchuk. “But if you took her out in a boat and pushed her off the boat a mile away from the beach, she would start swimming—and that’s what she did.”
She faced other challenges along the way in life, including a failed kidnapping plot in which a man offered her a gift basket and then pulled out a gun. But she was smart—she triggered the silent alarm and police arrived to arrest the culprits.
Tymchuk described her as one of Portland’s most generous and quiet philanthropists. He said she took everything in stride, and kept on going.
“I call her the Patron Saint of Oregon. She was what Oregonians want to be—she was generous, she was funny, she was hardworking, she had perseverance,” said Tymchuk. “Just an incredible lady.”
He said if Boyle gave him one piece of wisdom to pass onto others, it would be this:
“Everyone can make a difference. You can surprise yourself with what you can do.”
The company has asked for donations to the Oregon Health and Sciences Knight Cancer Institute in lieu of flowers.
An announcement about a celebration of her life will be released soon, according to Columbia. “There is much to be celebrated,” they said in a statement.
This article was written with contributions from The Associated Press.