Gertrude “Gert” Boyle died on Nov. 3 at the age of 95. This iconic figure of the international outdoor industry, who has been often referred to, in effective advertising and elsewhere, as “one tough mother,” was the chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear.
With her death, the company's chairmanship will pass temporarily to Timothy P. Boyle, the company's president and chief executive, and son of the deceased. Columbia's board will be appointing a new chairman at its next regular meeting in January 2020.
As of April 1, 2019, Gertrude Boyle held 9.4 million shares of Columbia's common stock, or 14 percent of the total shares outstanding. Sarah A. Bany, who has long served on Columbia's board and is Tim Boyle's sister, is expected to be the executor of Gertrude Boyle's estate.
It is believed that most of the assets – common stock presumably included – are to be donated to charitable foundations founded by family members, with the remainder going to family members themselves. Under current law, these foundations will have up to five years to sell any shares of common stock. Columbia will be working with the parties concerned to smooth the transition in ownership.
The name of Gert Boyle is associated with the interesting history about the development of a former small family business. When she was a child, her father was a partner in a German shirt factory, Lammfrom & Biedermann, whose assets, like those of many other companies owned by Jews, were seized by the Nazi government.
Gert was about 13 when she, her two sisters and her parents fled to the U.S. and settled in Portland, Oregon. Other members of her family would perish in concentration camps. By 1938, the year of the Anschluss, Gert's parents, Paul and Marie Lamfrom, had saved enough money to purchase the Rosenfield Hat Company, which they soon renamed after Portland's river, the Columbia.
In 1943, Gert set out from Portland to the University of Arizona to study sociology. There she met an Irish Catholic named Joseph Cornelius “Neal” Boyle. Neal and Gert married in 1948 and moved to Portland, where Neal joined Columbia. Over the next decade or so, as hats passed out of fashion, the family concern expanded into clothes for outdoorsmen, with Gert herself sewing its first fishing vest.
The Columbia Manufacturing Company was established in 1959, and Columbia Sportswear was born the following year with the merger of the manufacturing company and the hat store. Only a few years later, in 1964, Neal stepped up to lead the company, Paul Lamfrom having died, but Neal himself suffered a fatal heart attack only six years later, in 1970. That is when Gert – a 46-year-old housewife and mother of three – took charge, and one of the great outdoor companies finally took off.
From near bankruptcy, Columbia Sportswear grew to attain nearly $3 billion in annual net sales in 2018. Gert was president from 1970 to 1988, originating the “One Tough Mother” marketing campaign along the way. (The phrase would later serve as the title of her autobiography, published in 2007.) Her son, Tim Boyle, became president and chief executive in 1988.
“Gert's humor and business savvy,” the company said in a statement, “were sought by many people at Columbia Sportswear Company and she was truly beloved. Gert was unique and we feel fortunate to have had her as a leader for almost 50 years.”
The family of Gert Boyle will host a “Celbration of Life” in her honor at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland on Dec. 5.