'Tough mother' gives $100 million to OHSU cancer center

Ninety-year-old says 'What the hell, I'm not going to live forever'

Ninety-year-old businesswoman and "tough mother" Gert Boyle last year donated $100 million to Oregon Health & Science University's (OHSU) Knight Cancer Institute, largely because of a friendship with one doctor.

At first an anonymous gift, the hospital in August 2014 confirmed the former Columbia Sportswear president was behind the donation, her largest ever.

"Everyone had assumed that only a gentleman in this community would have that kind of money, not some little old lady down the street," she says.

Higher ed receives record $37.5 billion in donations

Boyle, widowed at 46 and left as a single mother of three children, took over her family's lagging sport-apparel company and grew it into the billion-dollar powerhouse it is today. She stars as tough "Ma Boyle" in a company advertising campaign.

She says she decided to give the funds in just seconds. "I had a meeting with my accountant, and we came to the conclusion that, what the hell, I’m not going to live forever," she says.

The gift constitutes one-fifth of what the center must raise by 2016 to earn the $500 million match pledged by long-time supporters Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife Penny. Center administrators will then use the funds to hire up to 30 top scientists and research early detection methods for cancer.

Boyle previously gave $2 million to the campaign.

The biggest donations to higher education in 2014

Why the gift

Boyle states two reasons for the donation: to advance cancer research and to keep her estate—taxed after her death—from funding American wars.

"I wanted to give [the money] some place rather than have government buy bullets," she says. "Bullets are not going to do anybody any good. All you have to do is look at history; killing people isn't going to do anybody any good."

Her friendship with Knight Center director Brian Druker helped guide her decision of where to direct the money.

Boyle's late sister acted as Druker's mentor while he earned his bachelor's degree from University of California, San Diego. He continued on to become a physician-researcher and led the development of Gleevec, a drug that makes chronic myeloid leukemia a manageable disease.

By chance, Druker discovered Boyle's relation to his mentor soon after he was named director, and the two quickly became friends.

The pair now stars in a campaign ad where they pose with "one tough mother" and "one tough doctor" tattoos on their arms (Lindsay, Philanthropy, 2/8).

The takeaway: Ninety-year-old Gert Boyle, "tough mother" and businesswoman, gives $100 million to Oregon Health & Science University's Knight Cancer Institute .

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