Gertrude Lamfrom was born on March 6th, 1924, in the city of Augsburg, Germany. The first few years of her life were peaceful and comfortable, with money no issue as her family owned a thriving shirt factory. The issue was the fact that the Lamfroms were Jews. The factory was seized as the Nazis tightened their stranglehold on the nation, and the family fled the country in 1937. The Lamfroms settled in Portland, Oregon, not far from the Columbia river, namesake of the brand she and her family would establish and build into a titan of the performance apparel industry.
But Gert herself never really intended to run an empire of outerwear and outdoor gear. It was the untimely death of her husband, Joseph “Neal” Boyle, that thrust her into the role she would come to fill so perfectly. In 1938, Gert’s parents purchased a small millinery company which they named the Columbia Hat Company. Neal had taken over the company in 1964 after the death of his father-in-law, Gert’s dad Paul. Then, in 1970, Neal died suddenly at the age of 47.
Gert became president of the company now called Columbia Sportswear — they had begun producing apparel beyond hats in the early 1960s — and would remain in that role until 1988, and she served as head of the board from 1983 until her death on November 3, 2019. When Gert took over Columbia, with assistance from her son Timothy, who would take over as president of the company in 1988, annual sales were around $800,000 and the company was facing bankruptcy.
Thanks in large part to Gert’s guidance, Columbia enjoyed tremendous growth over the ensuing decades. By the late 1980s, the company saw annual sales near $20 million, and by the late 1990s, sales had passed $355 million each year. In 2018, Columbia, now a public company and parent of brands including Sorel and Mountain Hardware, saw sales of over $2.8 billion.
For many people, Columbia will always be associated with Gert thanks to the “Tough Mother” television commercials that began running in 1984. In the ads, a deadpan Gert puts her adult son Tim through all manner of trying feats as they test out their company’s products in the field. Not only did the highly successful ads propel sales growth, but they also cemented Gert’s reputation as a no-nonsense, tough love figure.
This persona was largely a bluff, as at heart Gert was a warm and loving person and a noted philanthropist. Alongside her legacy as the head of Columbia Sportswear, she will be remembered as a major supporter of the Special Olympics and a major donor to the Knight Cancer Institute. Gert Boyle was 95.