PORTLAND, Ore. — Thousands gathered at Veterans Memorial Coliseum Thursday morning to celebrate the life of Gert Boyle. The longtime leader of Columbia Sportswear died on Nov. 3 at the age of 95.
Boyle leaves behind a lasting legacy and impact on the community, and the world, through her successful business, philanthropic donations to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and through her family.
Known as 'One Tough Mother', Boyle lived an amazing life. She was born in Germany and, as a child, she and her family fled Nazism and their home country and immigrated to the United States, landing in Portland. She was remembered Thursday as the epitome of the American Dream and a true trailblazer.
"She was an American original," said her son Joe Boyle to the crowd. "She knew better than anyone that things will happen in life that are outside your control; a war, a heart attack, the weather outside. All we can do is what Gert did: make the best of the situation and keep pushing forward. That's what it meant and that's what it means to be tough."
She took over what was then a small, struggling outdoor clothing company in 1970 after her husband died from a heart attack. At the time, she was a 46-year-old housewife and mother of three with no real business experience. But she helped build the company into a billion-dollar national brand and retailer.
"Her story is really incredible. Her humanity and kindness are unmatched. It's astounding to see the outpouring of love and respect from all those she encountered. And we certainly appreciate hearing it," said Boyle's daughter Kathy Deggendorfer.
KGW spoke with her son Tim Boyle, Columbia Sportswear Company president and CEO, after the celebration and asked what he wants people to remember most about his mother.
"I'm just continually shocked at what an impact she had being a woman in business, being willing to say something when it was important to say something. And people should remember that and be strong themselves," he said.
"She was a modest person and always said it was better to give money with a warm hand than a cold one. She wanted to make sure people got her generosity and that's all she needed."
"Gert would have loved this room," said Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson and friend of Boyle. "Packed to the rafters. A veritable sea of Columbia Sportswear logos. TV crews hovering, domination in the news cycle and as of 9:45 when we walked out here, Columbia's stock price up in a down market."
Boyle continued to put in 40-hour work weeks well into her 80s and signed every company check. She went to work at Columbia headquarters every day until this year.
She was well known for her no-nonsense attitude, unapologetic frankness, great sense of humor and boisterous personality.
Thursday's gathering celebrated Boyle's long, full life. Family, friends and employees of Columbia Sportswear were in attendance.
"Gert was 95 and few have lived such a full life," said Dr. Brian Druker, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Director. "But even as a doctor who knows all too well of human frailty there was a part of me that believed if anybody was invincible it was Gert."