Gert Boyle in 2013
March 6, 1924
|Died||November 3, 2019 (aged 95)|
|Education||B.A. University of Arizona|
|Known for||Chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear|
|Spouse(s)||Neal Boyle (1948–1970, his death)|
Gertrude Boyle (née Lamfrom; March 6, 1924 – November 3, 2019) was a German-born American businesswoman in the U.S. state of Oregon. After her family fled Nazi Germany, her father founded the business that would become Columbia Sportswear, where in 1970, she became company president. She remained president until 1988 and additionally, served as chairwoman of the company's board of directors from 1983 until her death in 2019. Starting in the 1980s, she appeared in a series of advertisements for Columbia Sportswear alongside her son Timothy Boyle, often humorously testing the quality and durability of their products. She was also a philanthropist and memoirist.
Born Gertrude Lamfrom to a German Jewish family in Augsburg, Germany, she was the daughter of Marie (née Epstein) and Paul Lamfrom. Her father owned the largest shirt factory in Germany until it was seized. Her mother was a nurse during World War I. In 1937, when she was 13, her family fled Nazi Germany and immigrated to Portland, Oregon, in the United States; her grandmother, who had remained in Germany, died in a concentration camp. When the family arrived, she did not speak English. In 1938, her father borrowed money from a relative and purchased the Rosenfeld Hat Company, changing its name to the Columbia Hat Company (after the river). She attended Grant High School in Portland, and later graduated with a B.A. in sociology from the University of Arizona.
In 1964, Boyle's father died and her husband, Neal Boyle, became president; her husband diversified the hat business into outerwear for hunters, fishermen, and skiers. In 1960, Gert Boyle designed the first fishing vest (her husband was an avid fisherman) and the name of the company was changed to Columbia Sportswear. In 1970, her husband died unexpectedly at the age of 47 of a heart attack; she became president of the company, then with $800,000 in annual sales. The company struggled and teetered on bankruptcy until, in the 1970s, she and her son Timothy refocused the business on outdoor clothing and casual wear which paralleled a general trend away from formal work attire. In 1975, they were the first company to introduce Gore-Tex parkas.
In 1983, Boyle became chairman of Columbia's board of directors (a position she ultimately retained for 36 years, until her death in 2019).
Boyle started starring in commercials for the company in 1984. In the ads she stars as Ma Boyle, who is "One Tough Mother" and uses her son as a test dummy for new products. In 1986, they released the Bugaboo, a jacket with a zip out lining which became quite trendy and further propelled the company's growth. Columbia was unique among specialty clothing manufacturers in that it would sell its products to any retail shop or chain. In 1987, Columbia had $18.8 million in sales and by 1997 it had grown to $353.5 million. The company went public in 1998.
She stepped down as company president in 1988, handing the reins to her son Tim, but remained chairman of the board.
In 1995, Boyle outfitted the Special Olympics Team USA for the World Games. She donated the royalties from her autobiography One Tough Mother to the Special Olympics and Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. In 2010, she endowed the Hildegard Lamfrom Chair in Basic Science in association with the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University with $2.5 million which honors her sister, Hildegard, who died from a brain tumor in 1984. In 2014, Boyle donated $100 million to the Knight Cancer Institute.
In 1948, she married Joseph Cornelius "Neal" Boyle, an Irish American from Pennsylvania whom she met in college, at All Saints Church in Portland, Oregon. Gert Boyle converted to her husband's Catholic faith. They had three children: Timothy Boyle (born 1949); Kathy Boyle (born 1952); and Sally Boyle (born 1958). As of 2013[update], her son Tim was the CEO of Columbia; Kathy is an artist and real estate saleswoman, and Sally is the co-owner of Moonstruck Chocolates, an upscale chocolatier. Her husband Neal died in 1970, and she never remarried.