Gerry Thomas, credited with inventing the TV dinner more than a half-century ago — and giving it its singular name, has died. He was 83.

Thomas died Monday after a long battle with cancer, his family said

He was a salesman for Omaha, Neb.-based C.A. Swanson and Sons (search) in late 1954 when he had the idea of packaging frozen meals in a segmented tray.

"It's a pleasure being identified as the person who did this because it changed the way people live," he said in a 1999 Associated Press interview. "It's part of the fabric of our society."

He recalled that the inspiration came when he was visiting a distributor on a sales trip and spotted a metal tray. He was told it was developed for an experiment in how to provide hot meals on airline trips.

After the Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) acquired Swanson in 1955, Thomas became a sales manager, then marketing manager and director of marketing and sales. He left the company after a heart attack in 1970. He later directed an art gallery, did consulting work and ran for the Paradise Valley City Council.

But in later years he was loath to call himself the father of the TV dinner.

"I really didn't invent the dinner. I innovated the tray on how it could be served, coined the name and developed some unique packaging," he said in the 1999 AP interview.

"If I'm the father of the TV dinner, who's the mother? I think it's ludicrous."