Donald Archie MacDonald, folklorist; born September 8, 1929, died July 22, 1999

WITH the death of Donald Archie MacDonald, Gaeldom has lost one of its finest scholars, and one of its most respected collectors of Gaelic oral tradition.

After a period as assistant keeper in the National Library of Scotland, where he was responsible for Gaelic manuscripts, he was appointed to the School of Scottish Studies of the University of Edinburgh as Research Fellow in 1962, and immediately began to record the rich seam of Gaelic narrative tradition, mostly in the Western Isles. Over the next two decades, he built up a large collection of recordings.

The sixties and seventies saw the recording programme of the school at its height. There was a sense of urgency in the work, since most of the informants were rapidly ageing and Donald Archie was very conscious that he was collecting material which represented the end of a marvellous tradition of storytelling, which would disappear if it was not recorded. He regarded his collection of over 800 tapes as the most important aspect of his work for the university.

He became a keen exponent of the video recorder as a tool for recording traditional storytelling, as well as crafts like smithying and thatching, in collaboration with the school's brilliant head technician, the late Fred Kent. As a teacher, students recognised the depth of scholarship which lay beneath a modest personality. In the role of acting director in 1989-90 he was a sensitive and efficient administrator.

All this material required archiving and collating, so as to be available to the wider field of researchers and students. In 1966, Donald Archie established a ''Tale Archive'', fully catalogued and indexed, with the devoted help of his archive assistant, Mrs Cathy Scott. It remains a lasting tribute to his work.

In the field, he was a joy to work with. Donald Archie and the school's archivist, the late Dr Alan Bruford, together with the present writer, made many memorable field excursions to the Gaelic-speaking area. Recording an old man round a kitchen table, Donald Archie, with his humorous approach and his reverence for the lore of his informant, was in his element. We were much aware that we were recording the last throes of a vanishing culture.

His association with Alan Bruford bore fruit in the publication of Scottish Traditional Tales (1994), which remains a standard students' text. Earlier, he published Ugam agus Bhuam (1977), a selection of stories and songs from the repertoire of Peter Morrison, Grimsay, North Uist, from field recordings which he himself had made. His other publications consisted of over 30 articles in various scholarly journals, but he made an enormous contribution to the school's popular journal, Tocher, of which he was associate editor for many years.

As a colleague, he was a man of extraordinary generosity and kindness. Younger members of the school's staff came under his benign influence in many ways, but primarily as a teacher of the techniques of field work in oral tradition, where his regard for the informant, and his genuine love for ordinary people, shone through all his dealings with those whose stories he was recording. A naturally shy man, I fondly recall the five-minute argument we used to have, before an informant's door, about who was to make the first approach.

Donald Archie is survived by his wife Agnes, who was a constant support to him over his entire career, by his daughters Eilidh and Raonaid, of whom he was intensely proud, and by his sister Margaret. His former colleagues, and a wide circle of friends throughout Scotland will mourn him. His kindness, like his scholarship, touched many lives, and we are all sadly diminished by his passing.