Sir Ronald Johnson, civil servant and musician; born Portsmouth, May 3, 1913, died Edinburgh, March 8, 1996

RONALD Johnson, who died in Edinburgh at the age of 82, was one of the outstanding civil servants in the Scottish Office of the post-war period. He joined the SO in 1935 and, with a break for war service in the RNVR, he held a variety of posts until his retirement in 1978.

In the fifties he was secretary of the Sorn Committee which produced the report which led to the abolition of owners' rates; and he was largely responsible for the preparation of the legislation which implemented that important reform.

In 1963 he became the first secretary of the Scottish Home and Health Department, a post which he held for nine years while, successively, Michael Noble, Willie Ross, and Gordon Campbell were Secretaries of State. Afterwards he served as Secretary of Commissions for Scotland for six years.

He was greatly gifted, not only with intellectual powers of a very high order but also with a general ability which made it possible for him to run two careers simultaneously. By day he was the policy adviser, the designer of legislation, the skilled and speedy draftsman of succinct option papers for Ministers.

Away from St Andrews House in Edinburgh and Dover House in Whitehall he was a fine organist and a very knowledgeable choirmaster. A few fortunate colleagues worked with him in both capacities of public administrator and musician, but he kept them separate - most of the time anyway; he was reported as having excused himself from a meeting of the Sorn Committee in order, he said, to tune a virginal.

In local authorities throughout Scotland - and particularly in the police and fire services - his abilities and interest were widely appreciated by both councillors and officials. Immediately identifiable as an Englishman as soon as he spoke, he was recognised as a sort of honorary Scot.

A devout Anglican, he was nevertheless the obvious choice to write the chapter on the Kirk when the Scottish Office produced a book on Scotland suitable for presentation to distinguished visitors.

There was a mysticism about Johnson, radiating from the depth of his Christian faith. He was very much his own man, not the sort of personality which can be readily classified or categorised. The high, broad forehead, and the neat, substantial beard made him a kenspeckle figure.

The breadth of his interests in both people and ideas, his restless energy, and his intellect could be awesome, but he was affable and kindly, and got on well with all sorts and conditions of men and women - and all shades of Ministerial politics and ability.

His balanced judgment, speed of response, and commitment to action were much admired and valued by his political masters. It was somehow typical of two of his many qualities - thoroughness and thoughtfulness - that long before the onset of the sad years of debility he prepared his funeral service, with the notation of the hymn melodies set down in his own hand.

He was made CB in 1962 and knighted in 1970.