Gert Boyle, the longtime chair of Columbia Sportswear Co. famously portrayed as “One Tough Mother” in the brand’s iconic and long-running ads, died Nov. 3 in Portland, OR. She was 95.
Boyle headed Columbia from 1970 to 1988, and remained intimately involved in the company’s running even after her son Tim took over as president and CEO. Thrust into the president’s role of what was then a family-owned sportswear firm after her husband’s sudden death, Boyle and her son Tim would struggle through early years where bankruptcy seemed imminent to grow the firm to what was an almost $3 billion company in 2018.
In 1984, the company debuted the first of what would be a series of ads that made her a star. They showed variations Boyle putting Tim Boyle through punishing conditions — in one memorable ad she ran him over with a Zamboni — to test the company’s outwear and footwear.
Known for her sense of humor and sharp business sense, Boyle was the first woman inducted into the National Sports Goods Association Hall of Fame, in 2003.
Boyle used her success to give back. In 2010, Gert and Tim Boyle endowed a $2.5 million chair at Oregon Health & Science University in honor of her sister, the scientist Hildegard Lamfrom. In 2014, she was revealed to be the anonymous donor who had contributed $100 million to OHSU in support of Nike founder Phil Knight and his wife’s promise to donate $500 million to the organization if it could raise the same amount to fight cancer.
Boyle is survived by Tim Boyle, who will take over the chairmanship at Columbia Sportswear; and her daughters Sally and Kathy. In lieu of flowers, the company has suggested that well-wishers consider a donation to Oregon Health and Sciences Knight Cancer Institute.