The outdoor industry lost an icon this past weekend when Gert Boyle, the chairwoman of gear company Columbia Sportswear passed away as the age of 95. A vibrant and witty personality, she is probably best remembered by the mainstream outdoor crowd for appearing in a number of Columbia ads over the years, which often touted her as “One Tough Mother.”
Gert’s father founded Columbia back in 1938 after he and his family fled Nazi Germany. She joined the company in 1970 to take the reins as president, a role that she served in for 18 years before stepping down in 1988. She would stay on the board of directions and act as chairwoman from 1983 right up until her death, staying actively involved with the outdoor gear manufacturer the entire time.
During the 1980s, Boyle became the face of Columbia when she began appearing in a series of ads. The tag line of “One Tough Mother” was used as those ads often had Gert using her own son Tim as a gear tester, usually in humorously extremely or dangerous conditions. These advertisements served to make Boyle an outdoor celebrity known and recognized by Columbia customers and non-outdoor enthusiasts alike. The campaign was even updated a few years back as Gert continued to serve on the company’s board.
Gert’s passing will be felt across the outdoor industry, as she was a well-known and popular figure who touched many lives. She leaves behind a legacy of being a shrewd and smart businesswoman, who came up in a time when that wasn’t all that common, in the outdoor industry or elsewhere. Under her leadership, she helped turn Columbia into one of the biggest names in outdoor apparel, pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year. In 1998, she took the company public as well, allowing it to rise to even higher heights.
Following her death, Columbia released the following statement:
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Gert Boyle, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Columbia Sportswear Company and its matriarch since 1970. Our “One Tough Mother” held many jobs at Columbia, from seamstress of the first fishing vest to President to advertising icon. Her sharp wit and wisdom helped propel the company from near bankruptcy in the early ‘70s to the global multi-brand company it is today, with annual net sales of almost $3 billion in 2018. Her pioneering role as a woman in what was then a male-dominated industry is a testament to her strength of character and ability to persevere through difficult situations.
Gert’s humor and business savvy 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 over almost 50 years.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Oregon Health and Sciences Knight Cancer Institute. An announcement will be made about a celebration of Gert’s life soon. There is much to be celebrated.”
Our condolences go out to the Boyle family and everyone at Columbia. Rest in peace Gert. You will be missed.