A crowd of Oregonians zipped up in puffy Columbia Sportswear coats pooled inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday morning to celebrate the life of Gert Boyle, the longtime company chairwoman. She died in early November at age 95.
The pioneering executive immortalized as "One Tough Mother" in Columbia Sportswear TV ads was remembered by friends and family as both indomitable and loving.
"My grandma was Superwoman personified," Boyle's granddaughter Rachael Sneddon said. "Her impact on my life matched her impact on the larger world."
Boyle fled Nazi Germany with her family as a young girl. She took control of Columbia Sportswear in 1970 after her husband died. Commercials featuring Boyle and her son Tim stress-testing jackets in harsh weather became one of the defining images of Oregon commerce.
"She was no one's story; she was an American original," said Joe Boyle, grandson of Boyle and Columbia Sportwear's executive vice president. "Rather than dwell on the past, she pushed into the future and made things better for those around her."
He also mentioned that "she wasn't in it for the recognition or credit." During the event, a television screen flashed to an old recorded video of her: "I'm just a person that has a big mouth," she proclaimed. "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise."
Boyle was one of the only people in her retirement home that worked a full day in the office at age 90, said her friend, state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose).
"I am profoundly grateful to have been part of 'FOG,' the 'Friends of Gert' club," Johnson said. "No matter which of Gert's families you belong to, she has left a hole—no, a crater—in our lives…I could almost hear Gert [today]: 'What the hell Betsy, will you calm down? You're making me nervous and I'm supposed to be resting in peace.'"
The mood of the memorial was set by a colorful slideshow that flickered through old photos of Boyle to tunes such as Jimmy Buffet's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" while longtime friends and family chatted, took their seats and grabbed tissues from the various boxes scattered throughout the venue.
The crowd left with a copy of Boyle's apple pie recipe in hand and anecdotes revealed in the tribute: She wasn't quite as tough as her pot roast or willing to get a real tattoo (despite photos from one of her most famous ad campaigns). But there's no doubt she left her mark on Oregon.
"If there's anything I learned about her toughness, what I want my kids to remember about their great grandmother is this: She knew better than anyone that things will happen in life that are outside of your control," Joe Boyle said. "All we can do is what Gert did: Make the best of the situation, keep pushing forward. That's what it means to be tough."