William James Millar Mackenzie, political scientist and teacher; born April 8, 1909, died August 22, 1996

WHEN the Political Studies Association held their annual conference in Glasgow last April they invited Bill Mackenzie to be their guest of honour. The chairman of this biggest gathering of British political scientists said in his speech of welcome that nearly everyone present had either been one of Bill's students, or a student of one of his students. Thunderous applause conveyed their affection for him. It was a fitting final public appearance for the greatest British political scientist of his generation. British, but also very Scottish.

Born in 1909, grandson of two ministers of the Kirk and son of an Edinburgh lawyer, Mackenzie became an outstanding student at the Edinburgh Academy and won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, at the age of 16. There he took a degree in classics, philosophy and philology, winning all the prizes on his way, and then returned to Edinburgh to study law with the intention of joining his father's firm. But his father died before he could do so, and in 1933 he returned to Oxford to become a don - first in classics, then in the still fairly new field of politics, at Magdalen College.

When the war came he was - to use his own words - ``jobbed into the Air Ministry to help hold down Bomber Harris. He was mad.'' There he was involved in the Special Operations Executive which dropped spies and saboteurs behind enemy lines: a tough political education. He also met and married Pamela Malyon, a fellow civil servant. Shortly after, their flat was destroyed by a bomb. They survived - and eventually produced four daughters and one son.

After the war Mackenzie returned to Magdalen, spending part of his time writing the official history of special operations - still too secret to be published. Although he was clearly a teacher of enormous erudition, he would have been known - had he stayed there - only as one of the very strong team of tutors this college assembled in philosophy and the social sciences. The big break came when, aged 37, he went to Manchester as Professor of Government. There he became the anchorman in one of the most talented groups of social scientists to be found anywhere in the world.

His own department grew fast. Bill was cautious about recruiting political scientists who believed they had a specialism and were eager to deploy it. Instead, he sought anyone who seemed able, creative, and capable of adding something new to the team.

I can best convey the experience he offered them by recalling my own. We joined a young and very bright faculty - mainly in their twenties - where we were at first given very light teaching tasks and expected to do a piece of research which would produce a book within three years.

The high points of the week were seminars for staff and graduate students, attended by people from all the social science disciplines. It was a time of hope. We believed the world could be made a better place, and that academics could contribute to that enterprise.

Bill read every word of the first and second drafts of the books we wrote, offering shrewd comments page by page. Once the book was done we were expected to find work abroad for between one and three years while he held a place open for us when we were ready to return. Only then did we get a full load of teaching.

It was a marvellous education, under a benevolent despot. If you had an idea for teaching or research you talked about it with Bill. He probably sharpened it up; then gave you full support in carrying it out. Within 10 years this still fairly small department came to dominate the field. He had constantly

to rebuild it because nearly all his young people went

on to senior posts in other universities.

Meanwhile Mackenzie was helping to write constitutions for Tanganyika and Kenya; and serving on the commissions reforming London government and the wider local government system, bringing back ideas, puzzles and insights for his colleagues and students. All this left him little time for writing. The books he did produce were often jointly authored text books - British Government Since 1918 (1950); Central Administration in Great Britain (1957); and Free Elections (1958).

Then in 1966 - despite a bid to attract him to the London School of Economics - he moved to a Chair in Government at Glasgow University where he stayed until his retirement in 1974. The magic could not be repeated. Times were changing. Faculties were larger, universities more bureaucratic, and academics had fewer opportunities to gain practical experience. Eventually hope, too, became scarcer.

Here Bill spent more time in the Highlands with his family; walking, sailing, playing golf. But he also got more writing done. Politics and Social Science (1967); Power, Violence, Decision (1974); Biological Ideas in Politics (1979) and his collected papers, Explorations in Government (1975), are among the products of these years - his most imaginative works, drawing on classical literature, mathematics, economics, cybernetics, biology, psychology, anthropology: an awe-inspiring range of scholarship.

This tall, tweedy and rather taciturn man remained to the end unmistakably a Scot. In the Establishment, but never of it; a radical and religious sceptic, he became increasingly convinced that Scotland must get out from under Westminster's stultifying influence. If, despite his scepticism, Bill finds himself in paradise tonight, I imagine his chatting with Adam Smith and David Hume - drawing the cork from some political puzzle and enjoying the ironies and paradoxes which fizz out from it.

Grieving for him, we grieve for a lost world and our own lost youth.