Gert Boyle — a longtime chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear — died Sunday morning. She was 95 years old.
Gert worked at the Portland, Ore.-based brand for nearly half a century, serving for nearly 20 years as president and more recently as chairwoman.
“Gert’s humor and business savvy were sought by many people at Columbia Sportswear Company and she was truly beloved,” read a company statement. “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Gert Boyle, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Columbia Sportswear Company and its matriarch since 1970.”
After fleeing Nazi Germany with her family at age 13, Gert attended University of Arizona, where she met husband Neal Boyle, whose family owned Columbia. Gert raised her three children in Oregon while Neal ran the business. But that all changed in 1970, when Neal died of an unexpected heart attack and Gert was thrust into role of Columbia president.
In the early ’70s, Columbia was near-bankruptcy, plagued by loans, sinking sales and Gert’s own admitted unfamiliarity with business dealings. However, Gert and son Tim Boyle implemented several measures that helped right the ship: cutting private labelling, going to bigger suppliers and focusing more on typical outdoor clothing.
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But Gert was perhaps best known for her starring role in Columbia’s memorable “Tough Mother” ads. The ads depicted her as a hard-as-nails, exacting executive, sending Tim to test product in unusual and grueling situations.
Gert stepped aside from her role as president in 1988, with son Tim taking the helm. She then held the position of chairwoman until her death, even reprising her role as the “Tough Mother” in a 2015 campaign. From the brink of bankruptcy in the ’70s, Gert leaves Columbia behind as an international, multi-brand company, with annual net sales of nearly $3 billion.
Columbia asks that a donation to Oregon Health and Sciences Knight Cancer Institute be made in lieu of flowers. The brand will announce details for a celebration of life ceremony in the coming days.