Columbia sportswear

Gert Boyle, ‘One Tough Mother’ who ran Columbia Sportswear, dies at 95


Gert Boyle, longtime president of Columbia Sportswear and the caustic star of the most memorable advertising campaign in outdoor clothing history, died Sunday morning at the age of 95.

“There would be no Columbia without Gert Boyle,” said State Senator Betsy Johnson D-Scappoose, a longtime friend. “Somewhere along the line, Gert stopped being just another smart, savvy, successful businessman, and turned into an Oregon icon.”

A resilient, demanding and charismatic woman in what has long been a world of outdoor enthusiasts, Boyle ran Columbia Sportswear from 1970 to 1988, firmly establishing the company’s brand.

Before his son, Tim, became president and CEO, Gert inspired the 1984 ad campaign, “One Tough Mother,” a slogan that also graces his 2005 autobiography.

“There are a lot of business leaders out there who would love to have a book,” said Peter Bragdon, executive vice president and general counsel for Columbia Sportswear.

“There aren’t a lot of people who have a story to tell.”

Boyle added to legend at 87 when she thwarted a dramatic 2010 invasion of her West Linn home.

When a Bush League kidnapper followed Boyle into his garage with a copy of his book and an impressive handgun replica, demanding money, Boyle had the presence of mind to insist. the fact that she had to deactivate her home security system first.

Instead, she hit the silent panic button, summoning the police. Boyle ended up with bruises and a bloody lip, but when the West Linn Police Chief came by to ask her how she was, Boyle said: “Everything was fine until you came with this jacket. North Face. “

Boyle has spent his last half a century fighting to outfit everyone with Columbia Sportswear clothing, even if that meant posing with a Windwear jacket while his son, Tim, joked:

“Unlike our president, it’s simple and light.”

And not so funny. “She put her heart on a plate and she had a mean tongue,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.

When Boyle moved to Mirabella, Portland’s retirement community, following the kidnapping attempt, she still bitched about the neighbors’ age.

Heck, Johnson says, “She was the only person in the retirement home with a full time job.” She never stopped going to work because she knew it brought out the best in her.

“I come early,” Boyle said, “and verbally assault as many people as I can find. “

Kerry Tymchuk, co-author of her autobiography and executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, was once driving Boyle and two friends – Antoinette Hatfield and Kathy Duncan – downtown when Boyle asked his companions if either another had read “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

Neither had touched the erotic schlock, so Boyle asked Tymchuk for a quick book review. In the silence that followed, Boyle joked, “Hell, I’m 91. I can not do it. Might as well read about it.

Born in Augsburg, Germany, Boyle was just 9 years old when Adolf Hitler came to power and the Nazis scribbled “The Jews Live Here” on the wooden siding of the Lamfrom House.

Most of his family fled Germany in 1937. Six decades passed before Boyle could agree to a return. When asked by a reporter if the return to Augsburg made her nostalgic, Boyle replied, “Don’t you remember the story? The last time I was here people were trying to kill my family.

Several months after the Lamfroms arrived in Portland, his father, a longtime draper, purchased the Rosenfeld Hat Company and changed his name to “Columbia Hat Company”. After a tedious summer or two on the hatbox assembly line, Boyle was overjoyed to escape to the University of Arizona, where she met her future husband, Neal.

They were featured, Boyle concedes in “One Tough Mother,” when the two were bombed and parked under a table at a Sigma Nu fraternity party. When they realized they were also compatible when they were sober, they married in 1948. Neal went to work for Gert’s father while she kept pace with their three children.

Her world shifted on the morning of December 1970 when Neal’s heart failed.

Gert and Tim, a senior at the University of Oregon, were suddenly accused of running a family business they didn’t know much about.

“It was the blind leading the blind, frankly,” said Tim Boyle. “We both started firing critical people. It probably wasn’t a good idea.

As the bad ideas piled up, sales fell 30%. The bank threatened to withdraw Columbia’s line of credit. Gert and Tim Boyle were on the verge of selling the business until the potential buyer tried to pay it off on closing.

Gert swore. Gert was furious. Gert threw the putz from his office. When her back was against the wall, Gert was complicated to say the least, trusting her poise and stubborn determination.

Columbia Sportswear made $ 600,000 in sales in 1971, the year after Neal Boyle died. He recorded net sales of $ 2.47 billion in 2017. Gert’s shares in the company were worth nearly $ 900 million in 2018, making it one of the richest in Oregon.

“The world might never have known her talents without the fact that her husband died so young,” says Brown. “She never gave up. She represents what I think of when I think of Oregon: we are mavericks, innovators, creators. “

Boyle was the first woman inducted into the Sporting Goods Association Hall of Fame, but she was not an early fan of Bill Borders’ brilliant “One Tough Mother” campaign.

She loved where she rode a Zamboni on an ice rink with her son trapped in the ice below, but wasn’t convinced that a male-dominated audience would appreciate glamorous clichés and slogans such as:

My mother makes combat boots.

authoritarian tyrant. It has a nice ringtone.

She will happily retire when hell freezes over, but that’s when we’ll need her the most.

Hall of Fame moments, it turns out. All.

She was too busy raising a family and resurrecting a Fortune 1000 business to be gender-obsessed, Boyle writes, but she found “that some of the skills I learned as a mother and in running a housework were very transferable to the workplace – skills like urging people to get along and not spending money unless you have it.

Once she got it, Boyle donated $ 100 million to the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University.

“She threw the gloves on the big boys,” Johnson said. “I knew she was thinking of doing it anonymously, but she didn’t want Warren Buffet credited for his $ 100 million giveaway.”

After Boyle, his leaked identity, came to the fore, OHSU renamed a research facility in honor of his sister, biochemist Hildegard Lamfrom, who died of brain cancer.

Dr Brian Druker, Director of the Knight Institute, said of Gert: “She told me she was giving what she could, like thousands of others who contributed, and didn’t think she deserved more praise than anyone.

“She said, ‘I think if somebody said to you,’ Would you like to leave a legacy? ‘ what better way to help humanity? ‘ She left a remarkable legacy in many ways, and she will be missed … but never forget her. “

Columbia said mourners could donate to the Knight Institute instead of sending flowers.

The company also said it will announce plans for a Celebration of Life in the coming days.

Boyle is survived by his son, Tim, and two daughters, Sally Bany and Kathy Deggendorfer; his younger sister, Eva Labby; five grandchildren; the 5,300 employees of Columbia Sportswear and a star of Zamboni.

–Steve Duin