For a man who generally eschewed public recognition and who could be gently self-deprecating about his work, Walter Cairns was one of the best respected figures in Scottish literature during the last quarter of the twentieth century. He was also one of the longest-standing associates of the Scottish Arts Council, serving as a member on its music and literature committees in the 1970s, and as its second literature director from 1979 to 1996.

In both guises I had cause to value his friendship and unfailingly courteous advice. Having served as his predecessor, I had enjoyed the benefit of his support and it was a pleasure to watch seeds sown in the 1970s turn into the mighty growth in literary patronage that came about under his direction in the following decades.

Walter's cultural hinterland was in music and publishing. He studied music at Edinburgh University and administered the Martin Chamber Concerts, which provided a steady and welcome diet of baroque music in Edinburgh during the 1960s. His day job was in publishing, first with the long-established firm of Thomas Nelson and then with the rising star of Archie Turnbull's Edinburgh University Press. Elegance of production, high standards of editing, and attention to detail were the EUP's watchwords, and the policy produced a list that was second to none.

That understanding of the reality of the publishing world stood Walter in good stead when he became responsible for directing the Scottish Arts Council's literature programme. It was a time when Scottish publishing was being resurrected and firms such as Mainstream and Canongate were building solid reputations by proving that publishing could exist and thrive outside London. They needed help and encouragement, and, although the literature budget was never elastic, realistic funding brought books into print and gave encouragement to author and publisher alike.

Under his tutelage and prompted by the growing book world in Scotland, the Scottish Arts Council embarked on an ambitious programme of expansion. Throughout the 1980s there was a breathtaking series of initiatives aimed at benefiting not just the creation of literature, but also its consumption. The Edinburgh International Book Festival came into being in 1983, the Scottish Poetry Library in the following year, and, although these were the creations of others, their enthusiasm would have waned but for the support of the Scottish Arts Council and the ever-ready guidance of Walter Cairns.

One of his finest achievements was the brokering of the agreement which brought the Canongate Classics series into being in 1987. For years there had been discussions about the need to bring back into print the classics of Scottish literature. Lengthy lists had been produced, committees had vetted them, and there had been desultory attempts to start various series, but the initiatives had foundered. Walter Cairns changed all that. By providing the funds and a solid and workable framework he was able to encourage publishers to come forward with plans and proposals. Canongate won the contract in open competition and the result was the republication of more than 100 classics of Scottish literature, made available again in attractive and accessible editions.

Being a patron is never easy and, as with all arts administrators, Walter was uneasily aware of Dr Johnson's famous description: ''Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.''

In his case, though, neither was true. Writers can be prickly people, quick to fall out and slow to forgive insults, real or imagined, but Walter stood above the fray. He was universally liked and respected, no easy feat in Scottish literature's small piranha pond, and no applicant for funds was granted anything other than kindness and respect. Often a note of encouragement in his elegant hand would soften an official rejection. That capacity to keep an even keel and to offer nothing but absolute integrity dominated the period of Walter's term at the Scottish Arts Council.

It produced the edifices which allowed literature to flourish and to adopt a higher profile. The Scottish Book Trust came into being as an umbrella group to promote writing in all its many facets, the Moniack Mhor Writers centre encouraged creativity, and a series of reports investigated the need to give books and their consumption a higher profile.

Money was never abundant - literature remains the Cinderella of the Scottish Arts Council's budget - but under Walter's astute guidance it was wisely spent. His retirement in 1996 marked the end of an era but, to the sorrow of his many friends, it was dominated by a debilitating illness. Kindly and engaging with a hint of rakish humour never far away, Walter Cairns was the last of his kind - an amateur (though never less than professional) arts administrator whose best interests and intentions were always centred on the people he served. Scottish literature owes him a big debt of gratitude.

He is survived by his wife, Alison, and their sons, Christopher, Paul, and David.

Walter Cairns; born April 22, 1931, died January 3, 2003.