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'One Tough Mother': Columbia Sportswear chairwoman Gert Boyle dies at 95

“It’s an interesting life. I honestly could not think of myself as staying home with a bunch of old people,” she said in 2018.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Gert Boyle enjoyed living life to the fullest.

When she spent time with KGW’s Brenda Braxton in 2018 at the age of 94, she talked about staying busy.

“It’s an interesting life. I honestly could not think of myself as staying home with a bunch of old people,” she said.

She rarely stayed home.

She kept an office at the Columbia Sportswear corporate headquarters and was a regular there until just two months ago when she began to slow down.

Her life in business began in 1970 when her husband Neal had a sudden and deadly heart attack.

He'd run the hat company Gert's father started when he brought the family to Portland as they fled the Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.

Suddenly Gert and her son Tim, a senior in college, were left to run the company.

“A secretary knew a lot more than I did. Everybody else knew more than I did because I didn’t know anything. And I’d say, 'Hey, you know you gotta teach me this.' And they said, 'Well, we're busy. We don’t have time.' So, I cleaned house," she said, meaning she fired nearly everyone.

Fighting for survival, Gert Boyle discovered a steel inner strength that helped her and Columbia survive.

Her son Tim said it was not an act.

“She took on the persona of being a tough business person which was not easy for her since she didn’t really know what a tough business person was. But she knew how to be tough and it made the rest of us get better,” Tim Boyle said.

Little by little, they did better.

In the mid 1980s they launched the "Tough Mother" series of ads featuring Gert Boyle as the toughest mother around.

It was a huge success with Boyle taking part as Tim wore the company coats through all sorts of weather-related abuse.

Columbia also began to diversify products.

“When we were only in the ski business it was like playing poker with the lord. You know whose gonna win. If it didn’t snow you just didn’t have anything,” she said during an interview in the late 1980s.

“And you can’t allow a company to become stagnant like that,” she added.

As the years passed, Columbia grew, went public, bought other brands and thrived.

Today it does more than $3 billion dollars in sales in 90 countries around the world and has 1,500 employees in the greater Portland area.

RELATED: OHSU 'absolutely closer' to cure for cancer after Gert Boyle’s $100 million donation

RELATED: 'An absolute gem, an Oregon legend': Gert Boyle, matriarch of Columbia Sportswear, dies at 95

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