Gert Boyle: One Tough Mother

onetoughmotherThere is a beautiful story on this week’s home page of The Chronicle of Philanthropy website about a 90-year-young woman who made a $100-million gift. The donor is Gert Boyle, chair of the Columbia Sportswear Company, and she has just taken the top spot on my ‘if-you-could-invite-any-ten-people-to-a-dinner-party’ list.

The fact that she is a wealthy leader of a world-renowned sportswear company is pretty noteworthy, but other details of the story resonated more deeply with me than who she is or how much money she has.

  • Boyle and her family escaped Nazi Germany in 1937 when she was only 13.
  • At 46, she was left widowed with three children to take care of.
  • In order to provide for her family, Boyle took over the family’s sports-apparel business the day after her husband’s death.
  • At the time Boyle took over the company, it was on the verge of bankruptcy.
  • Boyle made the $100-million pledge—her largest gift ever— to the Knight Cancer Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University. Her pledge alone covers one-fifth of what the Knight Cancer Institute has to raise to receive the $500-million matched pledge by Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
  • Boyle has maintained a longtime friendship with Knight Center Director Dr. Brian Druker, who had been mentored throughout his medical training and career by Boyle’s sister, Hildegard Lamfrom.
  • Lamfrom passed away from a brain tumor in 1984, but Dr. Druker took her advice and led the development of Gleevec, a drug that has made chronic myeloid leukemia a manageable condition for many people afflicted by it.
  • After becoming the director of the Oregon Health & Science University’s cancer center in 2007, Dr. Druker befriended Boyle and discovered that she was Lanfrom’s sister. With Dr. Druker’s research and Boyle’s funding, the cancer center can set out to make more medical breakthroughs.

I was in awe of Boyle’s obvious strength, her compelling life story and her personal relationship with the director of the cancer center to whom she bestowed this generous chunk of change.

This is philanthropy at its best – the kind that happens when people connect with people.