HAMISH Gray, Baron Gray of Contin, who died on Tuesday, was a popular and unassuming Scottish Tory politician whose style - consistently courteous and consensual - was not always that associated with the first two Thatcher administrations, in which he served as a middle-ranking minister of quiet effectiveness. He was a man who was above all proud to be a Highlander, and it was ultimately as a Highlander, rather than a Scot or a Tory, that he preferred to define himself.

Hamish Gray's family ran a well-established roofing business in Inverness. He was born in 1927 and educated at Inverness Royal Academy and then, in the years immediately after the war, he served with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in India. When he returned home he was a councillor in Inverness for several years before being elected Conservative MP for Ross and Cromarty in 1970, in the general election when Ted Heath unexpectedly beat Harold Wilson.

This was quite a coup for Gray, as the sprawling constituency had been a Liberal stronghold over several generations. Despite the vast size of the constituency, he was to prove, over the next 13 years, a sedulous and efficient MP. He was a government whip in the final months of the Heath administration. When Harold Wilson narrowly regained power in 1974, Hamish Gray returned to the opposition benches but he also undertook a task that was to lead to what he was later to describe as by far his most significant political achievement.

In 1973 the Labour back bencher Alex Eadie had presented a private member's bill to improve the standards of education for mentally handicapped children in Scotland. At the heart of the bill was the - then radical - notion that no child was ineducable. Eadie, a former Fife miner noted for his tenacity, did not suffer fools gladly and he lobbied aggressively for his bill among sceptical educationists. Up till then Alex Eadie's political interests had been mainly concerned with energy in general and coal in particular, and he was depressed by what he regarded as the obduracy of the Scottish education establishment.

When Harold Wilson resumed power in 1974, he appointed Eadie to a ministerial post at the Department of Energy. Eadie now had to find an appropriate opposition politician to pilot his cherished bill through its remaining stages. He deliberated long and canvassed wide before he chose Hamish Gray.

It was an inspired choice, and Gray did not let him down. A friendship developed between the two very different men. Hamish Gray successfully progressed the bill till it became law and both he and Eadie were very proud of what they had accomplished as back benchers.

Five years later, when Mrs Thatcher won power in 1979, she made Hamish Gray minister of state at the Department of Energy. He was a capable but low-key minister, showing particular interest in nuclear power.

In 1983 he lost his Ross and Cromarty seat to the most precocious young Scottish politician of the day, Charles Kennedy, who was later to lead the Liberals. So Ross and Cromarty resumed its traditional status as a Liberal set and Hamish Gray was (controversially) elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Gray of Contin. There he served as a Scottish Office minister for three years. But he was not really at ease with the abrasive style of the second Thatcher administration and Mrs Thatcher eased him out of government in 1986.

The next year he was 60. He began to take a less active interest in politics, though he still attended the Lords regularly. He became lord lieutenant of Inverness, the first holder of the role for many years not to have been a clan chief. He prosecuted a wide range of interests. He was a proponent of euthanasia, and he was keen to develop British relations with Romania, particularly after the fall of Ceausescu. He was chairman of the Anglo-Romanian Foundation.

Hamish Gray was not a particularly partisan politician, and in a sense it was his bad luck that he operated in very partisan times. He was, for example, always a strong champion of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, though it was very much a Labour creation. His approach to Highland affairs was openminded and pragmatic. He believed passionately that Highlanders were people of dignity and integrity, and he exemplified these virtues himself.

He was a genuinely happy family man. He and his wife Judith had three children; their elder son, David, is principal of Stewart's-Melville College and the Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh. He imbued his two sons and his daughter - and his nine grandchildren - with his great love of sport. He was a keen cricketer, playing for Northern Counties, and he was also fond of rugby and golf.

In his gently benign way, Hamish Gray was out of his time. He was not one for stridency or spin. He was soft-spoken, self-effacing and sincere - and a fine ambassador for his beloved Highlands. It is a tribute to his decency that he was most proud of what he achieved as a back bencher rather than as a minister.

Lord Gray of Contin; born June 28, 1927, died March 14, 2006.