Gert Boyle: In Memoriam

The Oregon Historical Society joins with citizens across the state in mourning the passing of one of our very first Oregon History Makers, the irrepressible and irreplaceable Gert Boyle. 

“Gert was a true Oregon icon who inspired countless individuals with her toughness, her savvy, her humor, and her generosity. It was one of the highest privileges of my life to have helped her with her autobiography and to have called her my friend,” said OHS Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk.

When Gert’s husband, Neil, suddenly passed away in 1970, the then 46-year-old housewife and mother of three found herself at the helm of Columbia Sportswear, a small and financially struggling outerwear manufacturer in Portland, Oregon. With no business experience whatsoever, Boyle faced the challenge of running Columbia, founded in 1937 by her father, a Jewish immigrant who fled Nazi Germany to come to America.

Though many expected Boyle to fail, she and her son, Tim, persevered and kept the business afloat through very challenging times. While Tim ran Columbia’s operations, Gert continued to put in a 40-hour works weeks until her late 80s – and signed every company check. And, thanks to a creative advertising campaign that billed her as “one tough mother,” Gert has become an icon in her industry and was proclaimed by the Oregonian as “the patron saint of Oregon.”

Visionary business leader, generous philanthropist, and one of Oregon’s most recognized and beloved public figures, Gert Boyle was truly one tough history maker.