Those mourning the loss of Willie McIlvanney this morning number countless thousands beyond his soulmate Siobhan, family and friends.

Famously crowned “the father of tartan noir” for his Jack Laidlaw trilogy, his non crime fiction also brought international acclaim and introduced us to a very particular definition of heroism.

In the characters of Docherty, The Big Man and other literary products of his fertile mind, McIlvanney gave voice to those from whom society would prefer not to hear.

Willie McIlvanney knew, and deeply cared, that the world divided not into good and bad people but rather those whose ability to deal with the human condition was too often hindered by the circumstances of their birth.

So his heroes were typically those ordinary folk who brought their intellect and humanity to bear on the anxieties and complexities which confront us.

As the writer Frederick Raphael suggested, Willie’s novels were “full of the joy in writing, and alert to the anguish of life”.

His hymn to the common man and woman was a recurrent theme as was the aspiration for a more communitarian society and the constant challenge of maintaining personal integrity in a morally bankrupt environment.

That sharp intellect and social conscience were forged in the kitchen of his parents’ Kilmarnock home where spirited debate was ever part of the nourishment on offer.

A stellar progress through Glasgow university was followed by more teaching years than he had envisaged.

As Willie told it, teaching was to be a two year diversion whilst he wrote the great novel which would have the world beating a path to his doorstep. But the world, he noted later, seemed to have carelessly mislaid his address.

Yet those 17 classroom years were hardly wasted.

All his life he would confront strangers anxious to tell him how his teaching had inspired and helped shape their path. That alone might have been legacy enough. But his novels, poetry and journalism were to prove inspirational to a much wider audience.

For all the honours with which he was garlanded, for many of us his most important role was as keeper of the Scottish soul. Willie McIlvanney was the kind of Scot we all aspired to be.

What he was not was prolific. Advised that a Jack Laidlaw novel a year would make his fortune, he typically set himself different challenges. Perfectionism was a constant companion, but not to the bank.

Happily, in the last few years, his agent, Jenny Brown, helped forge a partnership with Canongate who agreed to re-publish all his work on both sides of the Atlantic.

Two years ago I was given the immense privilege of giving the address as Willie received the Fletcher of Saltoun award from the Saltire Society. Fletcher was not noted as a philosopher but delivered one verdict apposite for the passing of one of Scotland’s greatest sons.

“If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”.

Thank you for the ballads, Willie. For the novels, for the poetry, for the acutely observed journalism.

Thank you for sharing that extraordinary mind with us all.

Ruth Wishart is a writer, broadcaster and personal friend of William McIlvanney