Thomas (Tom) Watson Alexander, shopkeeper, soldier, civic leader, and art collector; born January 12, 1915, died November

24, 2000

TOM ALEXANDER, who has died at the age of 85 in Edinburgh, was for nearly 40 years as synonymous with the Isle of Arran as Goat Fell. Indeed, the panoramic view across Brodick Bay to that imposing landmark overlooking the Firth of Clyde provided endless delight for the many friends, including Dame Dorothy Tutin, Sir Fitzroy Maclean, Alastair Hetherington, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and Sir Alastair M

Dunnett, who were entertained in his home by himself and his wife, Catherine. It is also a view his daughter the artist, Vivien Alexander, often returns to in her work.

This man of many parts, who with brother and partner Jim was Arran's best-known shopkeeper, created one of the country's most remarkable private art collections, containing works by almost every leading British painter and sculptor from the 1940s to the 1960s, most purchased for the princely sum of #40 or less.

Although he was a ''white settler'' from the mainland, he had holidayed on the island from early childhood before the second world war. He was born at Falkirk in 1915 into a comfortable merchant family. His father, James Cooper Alexander, was a master ironmonger who managed the century-old Alexander Stores Limited. Tom was a pupil at the Edinburgh Academy. At 17 his comfortable world fell apart following his father's death in a motoring accident, and he left the academy to become a director of the family company that by then owned eight hardware shops in central Scotland.

On holiday on Arran he met Catherine, who was from Bonnybridge in Stirlingshire. Eleven months after their marriage in 1939, Tom joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as a private. Catherine followed him, accompanied by their newborn daughter, Vivien, to Derbyshire, where her husband taught in the Ordnance Corps. In 1944 he was posted to Addis Ababa as assistant director of stores and ordnance to the British Military Mission to Ethiopia with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. During his service in Addis he met the Emperor Haile Selassie, a frequent visitor to the depot then under Alexander's command.

Upon his return to Scotland in 1946, he and his brother Jim relinquished their holding in the family company. By happy coincidence a general store had become available in Brodick on their old holiday haunt, the Isle of Arran. In the worst winter in living memory he moved to Arran with his family, and on January 12, 1947 opened what would be known for the next 37 years as Alexanders of Brodick.

He dedicated himself to the service of his adopted home with an intense passion. Along with his great friend Robert McLellan, the poet and playwright, who lived in High Corrie, he ensured that this small island punched above its weight with the powers-that-be on the mainland, with lasting benefits to the community. After long campaigning by himself and others an eight-bed extension to the War Memorial Hospital at Lamlash was built in 1972. The greatest victory came in 1973 when Arran High School was granted full comprehensive status. No longer would the island's children be wrenched away from their homes to spend their fifth and sixth years on Bute.This above all was a fitting tribute to his work for the island.

He did not confine such work to Arran. He sat on the Scottish Arts Council and the Crafts Consultative Committee. He was also a member of the Scottish Crafts Collection and the Film Committee of the Scottish Arts Council.

Tom had a passion for all the arts and co-founded the island's film and music societies. His shop was the first in Scotland to have a crafts department, where Lucy Rie pottery - now selling for four-figure sums - could be bought for 17/6d. But it was with his art collection that his passion achieved its full expression. He had bought his first painting in 1943 and proudly taken it to show his wife, who was in a nursing home following the birth of their second child Judith. ''The nurses thought it was dreadful,'' she remembered. It now hangs in the kitchen. The second, bought in 1948, was by Anne Redpath.

The seed money for his collection came initially from the #40 a year he received from the Army Training Reserve. Each year he would write to one artist, explaining that he was a shopkeeper on Arran with a limited budget. The response was remarkable. Gradually the walls of their home filled to include works from Ben Nicholson, LS Lowry, Stanley Spencer, Victor Pasmore, Ivon Hitchens, William Roberts, a Henry Moore that cost #19, Graham Sutherland, and John Piper. Table-tops carried the works of Barbara Hepworth, while the living-room was home to the works of sculptor David Gilbert, who had come to live on the island. Scottish artists apart from Redpath included Ian Mackenzie Smith, Jack Knox, Alan Davie, William Scott, Kenneth Dingwall, and his daughter Vivien.

He also collected ceramics. More than one visitor had to be asked not to stub out his cigarette in the Bernard Leach pot. Only one artist, Francis Bacon, refused Tom's request to contribute to the collection. In his final years he had, with regret, to part with some of these works. The Moore fetched #50,000, the Nicholson more than #40,000, and in 1999 the Redpath was sold for #29,000 - the highest ever paid for one of her works.

All of these were on view in a house where the front door was seldom locked. It was not a museum; it was always a home full of warmth and laughter. Tom gained great pleasure from other peoples' enjoyment in discovering art or discussing literature; he had collected books since he was 16. His generosity enriched many lives. He encouraged young people, with whom he and Catherine had a great affinity, which neither lost as they advanced into old age.

His own children were the particular beneficiaries of this. They have all displayed aspects of his life. Vivien is considered to be one of the most talented painters of her generation; Mike is a prominent independent film director and producer; Judy became a shopkeeper who has helped revitalise the designer knitwear industry in Scotland; Keith is editor of arts features for BBC Television. Many of his grandchildren are involved in the arts and broadcasting.

In January 1984 he broke the long physical connection with Arran. The shop was sold and he and Catherine moved to Edinburgh to share a beautiful Georgian house with their daughter Judy and her partner David Hope. His paintings filled the rooms there as they once did on Arran. They spent 16 happy years there and played a full part in the artistic and social life of the city that they knew well - not least because of their regular attendance at the Edinburgh International Festival since 1948. Until recently they enjoyed good health, but in his last days it fell to Tom to help care for Catherine, who survives him. His four children, 11 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren also survive him.