Iconic Columbia Sportswear matriarch Gert Boyle remembered for toughness, generosity

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Determined. Iconic. Remarkable.

Those are just some of the words being used to describe Gert Boyle, the chairwoman and matriarch of Columbia Sportswear. The company announced Boyle died over the weekend. She was 95. 

Boyle spoke with FOX 12 in 1994 about the company she would lead for decades.

“So when Neal died, very suddenly one day, they said OK, no what are you going to do. And I said I don’t have a choice, I’ll just run it. And I thought it would be easy.”

She was asked if it had, in fact, been easy.

“No, it was hell,” Boyle said.

Boyle took over the brand when her husband passed away in 1970. Under her leadership, it became a multi-billion-dollar company, known for its ads featuring Boyle front and center.

“And then you look at our ads and they’re different. And you go through a magazine and you see these people and then you see this little old lady and say, ‘what in the hell is she doing there?’” Boyle previously told FOX 12.

Boyle overcame a lot in her life. Her family escaped Nazi Germany and moved to America when she was 13 years old.

“The brown shirts, the Nazis, came to her house and tried to take the family, and my grandmother, who was equally tough, just saved the family,” said Tim Boyle, Gert Boyle’s son.

She inspired the “One Tough Mother” ad campaign, which would also become the title of her 2005 autobiography.

“She was tough and she liked to let people know that,” Tim Boyle said.

Her grit became even more apparent in 2010, when armed robbers invaded her West Linn home. She hit a silent alarm that called police and led to the capture of the suspects.

Gert Boyle was a pioneer who told it like it is, even with her family.

“The last few times I met with her, we just chatted about mostly business,” said Tim Boyle. “She wanted to know what was going on with the family: ‘Are you guys still having too many meetings?’”

Gert Boyle was also very generous in the community. She gave $100 million to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

The institute’s director told FOX 12 that they are closer to finding a cure because of people like Gert Boyle.

Dr. Brian Druker said she wasn’t only a donor, she was a dear friend.

“Both my wife and I cried,” Druker said of hearing that she had died. “We adored Gert, we loved seeing her and we just never thought this day would come to pass, but here it is, and we miss her.”

Druker posed with Gert Boyle for a photo shoot during a fundraising campaign for the Cancer Institute, with the headline, “Cancer: You’ve met your match.”

Druker said when she made her donation, the two of them got on the phone with Nike co-founder Phil Knight to personally tell him about it.

Druker said that Gert Boyle told Knight, “Phil, I just want to let you know, the little old lady down the road chipped in too.”

In lieu of flowers, anyone interested in supporting Gert Boyle’s memory is asked to give to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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