The Rev John Norman MacLeod, former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and a highly respected figure in the public life of the Isle of Lewis, died on July 8, aged 76.

Jack MacLeod's life reflected the drama, voyages, and hardship which swept the Western Isles after the First World War. Like many others, his parents emigrated in the early 1920s and it was in Detroit, Michigan, that Jack was born, in 1926. The following year, though, the family returned to his father's native Shawbost, on the west side of Lewis. Times were hard, but the austere living of a croft was infinitely preferable to the realities of the US during the Great Depression.

Shawbost is a warm, egalitarian community still dominated by the evangelical fellowship of the Free Church of Scotland. Jack's father, Am Brugan - who died in 1988 at a great age - is remembered for ''noted godliness and wholesome Christian teaching''. Interviewed in 1983, Jack recalled a home where ''Christianity was practised and I owe a lot to a very painstaking teaching by my parents, especially

in the shorter catechism and Bible knowledge''.

Jack grew up as a thoughtful, jolly man with an interesting face. He was always small and, latterly, portly; this won him an affectionate nickname, Casan-Sofa, or Sofa Legs, though it is doubtful if he enjoyed it.

Jack was well into his twenties, newly demobilised from war service, before he felt the call to the ministry. His schooling had been limited and it took much hard work to graduate from Edinburgh University.

After training at the Free Church College, he was ordained in the continent of his birth, as ministerial deputy to the Fort William congregation in Ontario, Canada, in 1956.

In 1959 he accepted a call to Lewis and pastored the Park congregation before again, in 1967, sailing to Canada, where he spent six years as minister of the Free Church in Toronto. There followed four years as minister in London; a call to the Point congregation, in Lewis, in 1977, ended his globetrotting.

In the 1980s Jack stood out on Lewis as a man of fierce intelligence with a splendid theological mind. When, in 1991, plans for a massive Nato base at Stornoway Airport were announced, with huge runways, disruption, and noise, he was at the head of fierce opposition, which coalesced in the Keep Nato Out group.

This earned him much criticism. Some argued that to oppose Nato bases was sheer pacifism; to oppose one in Lewis must be pure selfishness. Jack himself fought to stop Keep Nato Out from identifying itself with CND and unilateral disarmament.

But, ''I oppose the further militarisation of Stornoway Airport for numerous reasons,'' he told the Free Church Monthly Record. ''Once the thing gains momentum there will be no stopping the further escalation of military development.

''A large military establishment will further erode the moral, religious, and cultural ethos, already fragile enough.''

Besides, said Jack, he could not see ''how any sane person can welcome the installation of a modern war-machine on his doorstep''.

It was the end of the Cold War, rather than Keep Nato Out, which precluded full construction of the base, but the episode cast Jack among curious allies like William Wolfe and Brian Wilson and made him rather famous. In 1983 he served as moderator of the General Assembly. He devoted his opening address to covenant theology and the high moderatorial chair was thoughtfully furnished with a foot-rest for his little legs.

In later years, Jack was bedevilled by spectacular ill-health that would have been comic had it not been so serious: life became almost a round of massive operations and the wee minister liked

to tell how once, at US-

Canadian customs, he took an age to convince officials that all the drugs he toted were for his own use. He must, in the event, have outlived several doctors.

Retiring from the Point pastorate in 1991, Jack's last decade coincided with the Donald MacLeod controversy, which seemed only to worsen after the theologian was acquitted at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in 1996. Jack was by no means an uncritical fan. Professor MacLeod had strongly criticised Keep Nato Out and, in 1987, Jack had led a pointed General Assembly bid to reassert Free Church purity of worship and clip the controversialist's wings.

But Jack had a keen sense of fair play and operated fearlessly from conviction, irrespective of past differences. He took a deep dislike to MacLeod's opponents and, retired as he was, fought in the Lewis Presbytery to maintain the order and discipline of the Free Church.

By 2000 the dissidents were driven to break away in the Free Church Continuing, taking but one island minister and very few of the loyal Free Church people of Lewis - an outcome that owed much to his example and leadership.

The Rev Jack MacLeod will be remembered as a warm preacher and a shrewd, upright man.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, their two sons, and two daughters.