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Fri Nov 8, 2019, 10:12 PM

One Tough Mother: Gert Boyle 1924-2019 [View all]

Gert Boyle, who was thrust into managing her family's struggling outerwear business and helped build it into a multibillion-dollar juggernaut, Columbia Sportswear, while staring in humorous advertisements as "One Tough Mother," has died November 3 in Portland, Oregon at the age of 95.

Her son, Timothy Boyle, the company's president and chief executive, confirmed her death. He was named acting chairman on Monday, succeeding his mother, who had previously served as president. Well into the last three months, he said, "She signed all the company checks."

Mrs. Boyle was 46, a stay-at-home mother of three, when her husband, Neal, died after a heart attack in 1970. He left her with a debt-laden company that she had scarcely been involved with, aside from designing a fishing vest for her husband that became one of Columbia Sportswear's top selling items.

Selling the business was out of the question; three months earlier, Neal had used their house to take out a large loan. And selling would have been out of character for Mrs. Boyle, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in the US at 13, speaking not a word of English.

Settling in Portland, where her father bought a hat company that grew into Columbia Sportswear.


Hilarious advertisements created by Borders Perrin Norrander presented 5-foot-3-inch "Ma Boyle" as a gruff, no-nonsense figure with a "Born to Nag" tattoo on her biceps, she was shown pushing her son Tim to hang off a cliff or stand in an automatic car wash to prove Columbia Sportswear goods to be durable and rugged. In one spot, she used a dart-gun to sedate Tim then left him alone an a snowy mountain top; in another, she strapped him to the roof of a car and drove through a rain storm. In still another, she was shown driving a Zamboni over a frozen Tim, breathing through a straw under the ice.

The ad campaign launched in 1984 saw sales grow from $13 million to $260 million in 1994.

Interviewed by "Fortune" in 2003, she said of herself, "I don't really think of myself as that nasty woman in the ads. I'm so much nicer, taller, blonder and thinner," laughing. She said, "But I am a different person here at the office than I am at home. Because if you let somebody leave tire tracks on your back, you're never going to make it. You have to speak up and say, "This is what I am about."

Well into her 90s, she remained active in business and philanthropy, donating $100 million to Knight Cancer Institute, part of Oregon Health and Science University (Portland, OR). She was often seen in her office, issuing "Gertisms," mantras such as "Early to bed, early to rise, work like Hell and advertise."

"I get up in the morning and go to water aerobics, then I come into the office, then go around and verbally abuse as many people as I can. They asked my son, what are you going to do when your mother dies ? He said, we'll have her stuffed. In Columbia Sportswear."

[More at NYT on Gert Boyle.]

She WAS that "Tough Mother," and all that knew her will never be able to forget her. Her spirit, moxie and drive will live on forever. Here's to you Ma Boyle.

Funeral plans are pending.

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