MINNIE GORIE has died. In a celebrity culture, she was not a celebrity. Her name will not mean anything to most Herald readers outside of Orkney. She won't be eulogised in the national obituary columns, but I want to memorialise her because of who she was and what she represents.

Minnie (that was her full name) was born in Stromness - the ''Hamnavoe'' of George Mackay Brown's short stories - in 1910. Her father, Captain George Swanson, was one of Orkney's best known seamen. As captain of the St Ola in the days when there were no

stabilisers on ships, he established an unchallengeable reputation as one of the most knowledgeable and skilful navigators of the volatile waters of the Pentland Firth.

Minnie, who knew considerable family heartbreak, worked hard all her days. She worked in a shipping office and a hotel, then she kept the books in the business established by her talented, artistic daughter, whose name, Ola Gorie, is a byword for excellence in jewellery and design. In addition to looking after son Bruce and Ola, and welcoming all sorts of visitors to her generous board, Minnie found time to be Tawny Owl to the Brownies, a volunteer with the WRVS, and a helper with the Red Cross trolley at the local hospital. She was forever on the go, dropping in on people who were sick or simply needed a bit of company. She never went empty-handed. She and her husband, Pat, were great supporters of the St Magnus Festival.

By the time I got to know her, she was an elderly lady, tiny and vivacious. I realised immediately that Minnie Gorie was a woman who was in love with life. Her youthful spirit and twinkling eyes made her seem much younger than her years. Keenly interested in people, she had a great knack of getting folk to tell her their life stories. She herself was a wonderful storyteller, a walking history lesson.

As a schoolgirl, Minnie had observed the scuttling of the German Fleet in Scapa Flow in 1919, and she always had the eyes and the heart of a child. As a pensioner, she was willing to go with her grandchildren on a rat shoot down Ratty Burn because there was no other adult available. She loved to travel, her last trip being on the Licensed Trade Association's ''booze cruise'' to Japan. And how she loved to dance!

Minnie Gorie was the oldest supermodel in the world. Her granddaughter, Ingrid Tait, having inherited her mother's artistic skill, is making a name for herself furth of Orkney as a designer. Who better to model some of the latest scarves for Tait & Style than her stylish, nearly 90-year-old granny? The last photo shoot happened near the Ring of Brodgar, featuring a back view of Minnie wearing a wonderfully coloured scarf that matched the coloured rollers in her hair.

Minnie's love of life and her sense of service to the community sprang from a deep and abiding faith. Every week she was in her seat in the south transept of St Magnus Cathedral. Her religion was a living, totally unpretentious, thing. She was compassionate and forward-looking. When terminal cancer was diagnosed, Minnie was typically philosophical. Her faith shone brightly during her final illness. She had packed her bags, and was ready to go. As usual, she was more concerned for others.

Not long before she died, we held a little service at Ola's house to celebrate the birth of Cara, Minnie's latest great-grandchild. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren took part, and, as part of the ceremony, Minnie, shrunken and frail but with dancing eyes, handed on a lit candle to Ingrid and her novelist husband Duncan McLean. Duncan had composed a beautiful little poem for their baby daughter. It was an event which those of us who were present at will never forget.

In many ways, the life I have documented is an unexceptional one. Yet something of the soul of Scotland is embodied in Minnie Gorie. Scotland ''happens'' not primarily because of politicians, but because of an unheralded network of caring neighbours, unpaid community volunteers, and life-affirming friends. Scotland is kept alive day by day not so much by photo-opportunity political gestures as by repeated, unpublicised, untheatrical acts of caring. Take away these hardly-noticed everyday things and our national life would be bankrupted. In the current professionalising and politicising of everything that moves, and in the hysterical, poisonous, tabloidised culture which we all inhabit, we are inexorably haemorrhaging quality and character which cannot be measured, cannot be priced, and cannot easily be replaced.

Minnie Gorie, this was your life: a graceful dance of kindness, curiosity, generosity, and faith. In that living dance, you remind us of what it is that really matters.

Minnie Gorie is dead: but she passes on the candle. Long live Minnie Gorie.