Gert Boyle: Mourning an icon
Tributes have been flowing in for former West Linn resident Gert Boyle, longtime chairman of Columbia Sportswear, who died Sunday, Nov. 3. She was 95.
Boyle left West Linn for a retirement apartment in Portland after a headline-grabbing home invasion incident in her home in 2010. Approached by the thief as she was entering her home, 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 police (and was later apprehended), leaving Boyle shaken but calm enough to quip to a West Linn officer that the worst part of the episode was when another officer entered her home wearing a jacket made by a competing sportswear company.
Boyle and her family — husband Neal, son Tim and daughters Sally and Kathy — moved to West Linn in the early 1950s, during a time when Neal was CEO of the sportswear company started by Gert's parents and she was a housewife.
"She was like June Cleaver," said Gert's son Tim Boyle, when asked what might surprise people about his mother. Many of his childhood buddies from West Linn have reached out to him since his mother's passing, he said.
"She was an amazing lady," recalls Kitzie Randall, a family friend since befriending Boyle's daughter Kathy in college. "She had a great sense of humor but you didn't want to cross her — and never wanted to forget your thank you notes."
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 and build the company.
Tim Boyle describes his mother's story as the ultimate "immigrant's story," due to her Jewish family's flight from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and struggle to start a hat-making business in Portland after coming to the U.S.
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 his mother did have to be talked into a few of the ones she was less sure about but mostly she understood the point of the concept behind the ads. "There were very few women in business then. She recognized she had a pulpit and she used it."
As for running a company with your mother and letting her abuse you in comical company ads, Tim says 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."
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."
Boyle was showered with awards over the years, topping it off with induction into the Sporting Goods Hall of Fame, Global Business Hall of Fame and the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. She is also survived by five grandchildren.
Jim Redden contributed to this story.
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