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Gert Boyle (1924 – 2019), Columbia Sportswear chairwoman starred in ads

Getty Images / South China Morning Post / Edward Wong

Boyle built her company from a small business to the largest outerwear company in the U.S.

Gert Boyle was the former president and chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear, who built the company from a small business to the largest outerwear company in the U.S. and starred in its commercials. A native of Germany who fled with her family after the Nazis took power, Boyle took over Columbia Sportwear, which had been founded by her father and passed along to her husband, after her husband’s death in 1970. Unexperienced in the business world and unfamiliar with the daily workings of the company, Boyle was encouraged to sell for far less than Columbia was worth. Instead, she and her son, Timothy Boyle, buckled down and figured out how to make it work themselves. As the company grew into the household name it is today, Boyle turned the presidency over to her son in 1988, though she remained chairwoman and continued coming to work regularly even as she was living in a retirement community.

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Died: November 3, 2019 (Who else died on November 3?)

Details of death: Died in an assisted living facility in Portland, Oregon at the age of 95.

Is there someone you miss whose memory should be honored? Here are some ways.

One Tough Mother: Boyle’s ad campaign for Columbia Sportswear was funny and memorable, billing her as “One Tough Mother.” In some ads, she tested the company’s products on her son in comically rigorous ways, as when she shot him with a blow dart or buried him in snow with a snow plow. In others, she simply mugged for the camera – one placed her in a gritty bar alongside a crowd of bikers as she exposed a “Born to Nag” tattoo on her bicep. The ads were popular, and they worked – the company’s fame grew and their sales increased as the ads went national.

Memorial donations: Boyle was a prominent sponsor of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, having donated $100 million to their research efforts. Her family has requested that anyone wishing to honor Boyle’s life donate to the Knight Institute in her memory.

Boyle’s philosophy of life: “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.” —from a 2005 interview with the University of Portland magazine

What people said about her: “There would be no Columbia without Gert Boyle. Somewhere along the line, Gert stopped being just another smart, savvy, successful business person, and morphed into an Oregon icon.” —Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson

“At OHSU, we knew Gert as a one-of-a-kind woman endowed with an indomitable spirit, unlimited energy, quick wit and an exceptionally warm heart. Her generosity to OHSU, and to many other worthy causes, was boundless.” —Oregon Health & Science University

“Gert Boyle inspired us all to overcome great obstacles, and to achieve great things. She was tough, and she was brave. She put her heart on a plate and she had a wicked tongue. Gert was one of a kind, and we will miss her.” —Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

Full obituary: The Oregonian

Related lives:

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  • Estee Lauder (1906 - 2004), founder of a cosmetics empire
  • Lillian Vernon (1927 - 2015), founded the first woman-owned company to be trader on the American Stock Exchange