Tributes have been flowing in for Portland legend Gert Boyle, whose family was early associated with Sellwood – and longtime Chairman of Columbia Sportswear, where the company's outlet store is still located. Boyle was born in Augsburg, Germany, on March 6, 1924, and died Sunday, November 3, in Portland, at the age of 95. Her family fled Nazi Germany when she was 13, and immigrated to Portland, where in 1938, her father borrowed money from a relative, and bought the Rosenfeld Hat Company, changing its name to the Columbia Hat Company – later renamed Columbia Sportswear. Gert attended Grant High School, and later graduated with a B.A. in Cociology from the University of Arizona.
Boyle and her family – husband Neal, son Tim, and daughters Sally and Kathy – moved to West Linn in the early 1950s, at a time when Neal was CEO of Columbia Sportswear Company and she was a housewife. It was Neal's untimely death in 1970 that catapulted Boyle into a business career that few women could surpass. "Our lives were upended," said Tim.
Although her parents had started the company that evolved into Columbia, Boyle had no business experience – and she and Tim struggled for years to learn the ropes to continue to build the company. Eventually Gert Boyle would become the face of the company, appearing in advertisements as the "one tough mother" (also the name of her 2005 autobiography) behind Columbia. Regarding Columbia's memorable advertisements featuring Gert and her son, then CEO of the company, Tim Boyle said, "There were very few women in business then. She recognized she had a pulpit, and she used it."The family never lost their affection for Sellwood, and a decade ago paid for an unprecedented ten-year, million-dollar corporate sponsorship to benefit Sellwood Park – the only such business relationship of a Portland city park to date.
Boyle left West Linn for a retirement apartment in Portland after a headline-grabbing home invasion incident in her home in 2010. Approached by a thief as she was entering her house, Boyle was forced inside, threatened with a gun, and eventually tied up. Quick-witted Boyle told the perpetrator she needed to disable the home alarm system – but instead triggered a silent alert that summoned police. The criminal jumped off a second-story deck to flee responding officers, and was later apprehended – leaving Boyle shaken, but calm enough to quip to a West Linn officer that the worst part of the experience was when another officer entered her home wearing a jacket made by a competing sportswear company.
"She was like June Cleaver," responded Gert's son Tim Boyle, when asked what might surprise people about his mother. As for running a company with your mother, and letting her abuse you in comical company ads, Tim remarked that it was "all for the good of the order. We both determined where our strengths were, separate from each other – and that made it easy to have a great relationship, both at work, and as a family." Among her other survivors are five grandchildren.
Boyle was showered with awards over the years, topping it off with induction into the Sporting Goods Hall of Fame, the Global Business Hall of Fame, and the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. Tim said he expects his mother will still be present in Columbia's branding. "She's so iconic; she'll always be closely connected, regardless."