05/17/2013 07:06 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Legendary CBC track & field commentator Geoff Gowan dies at 83

Longtime legendary coach and CBC Sports track and field commentator Geoff Gowan passed away Friday in Halifax at the age of 83.

The member of the Order of Canada died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Gowan's career in the sport spanned decades, and he was inducted to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame as a builder in 2002.

"He taught Canadians how to watch track and field," said Terry Ludwick, now a broadcasting executive with the CBC. "He could sum up victory and defeat in such human terms, but with technical expertise that could be understood by a schoolboy or schoolgirl.

"And he had such a great sense of humour and great appreciation for the athletes that he covered. His articulation was such that it's almost difficult to watch track and field now without hearing a British voice."

Gowan covered many Olympics and world championships around the world throughout his career, and his influence on North American sport was unparalleled.

"Geoff was an outstanding leader in Canadian sport, and influenced thousands of athletes, coaches, and colleagues in sport management and the media. He has been a friend, role model, and mentor to myself and many others in Canadian sport, and will be deeply missed," John Bales, the Coaching Association of Canada's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The native of Ravenglass, England's legacy is honoured through the Geoff Gowan Award, which celebrates achievements and contributions to coaching development; something Gowan dedicated much of his life to. He was technical director and president of the CAC from 1972-1996 and created the first national coaching institute in 1986.

Many of Canada's top coaches have won the award, including Jack Donahue, Doug Clement, Al Morrow, Donald Dion, Charles Cardinal, Andy Higgins, Tim Frick, Allison McNeill, Lyle Sanderson, Dru Marshall and Keith Russell.

"He was a leader in the development of the entire coaching education program in Canada," said National Coaching Institute director Andy Higgins. "He was not only a visionary leader but was a passionate advocate for coaches and coaching. He knows there is only one key element in amateur sport, and that is the coach. Without the coach, it's just a bunch of people having some fun playing games."

Through his work with the CAC, Gowan was instrumental in the training of more than a million coaches through the development of the National Coaching Certification Program, considered to be among the best coaching education programs in the world.

'Geoff was so good'

Former colleague and veteran CBC Sports broadcaster Steve Armitage remembers Gowan fondly, citing his unique talent for description.

"Geoff was so good," Armitage said. "He was, in his delivery and in his vocabulary, almost Churchillian. He would say things and he would say it in such a manner that after you heard it you would just go 'Wow. How did he come up with that?' And his wasn't the shotgun, machine-gun approach to play-by-play. He would use his words sparingly and let the action tell the story."

He was presented with the Order of Canada in 1992 in recognition of his substantial contribution to sport. He was also awarded an Honourary Doctorate in Civil Law from Acadia University for his distinguished service to sport in the country.

Longtime CBC Sports broadcaster Mark Lee was also impressed by the veteran's ability to call play-by-play like no other.

"His voice crackled with authority when he called track and field," Lee said. "His choice of words was so poetic, and his English accent gave him that distinguished quality that really separated him from the rest of the broadcasters. He was such a scholarly man when it came to track and field. . . but his ability to use his knowledge and distill it into 10 seconds of sterling broadcast quality with a delivery that came right out of Madison Avenue — he was a really remarkable person that way."

But above all, it was his humble demeanour that stood out.

"He was a really gracious human being," Ludwick said. "As a coach, he understood that in everyone there was a champion that could be coaxed out in whatever walk of life they were."

Details on funeral arrangements have not been released.