Born: March 3, 1933; Died: September 1, 2012.

Professor Bill Gordon, who has died aged 79, was Emeritus Professor of Civil Law at Glasgow University, and for four decades, was a leading expert and author on Scots law, Roman law and legal history in general.

He spent 30 years as full-time professor of civil law (the Douglas Chair) at Glasgow, although he was originally from Aberdeenshire and got his MA and LLB from Aberdeen University to qualify as a solicitor in 1956. He would later get a PhD from Glasgow.

When Aberdeen University awarded him an honorary law doctorate Hon LLD in July 2005, it cited Prof Gordon's "sustained and exceptional contributions to legal scholarship" and said "his work has enhanced Scotland's cultural identity". He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE) in 1995.

Aside from his teaching, Prof Gordon's work – books, essays, numerous articles and book reviews – often dealt with the influence of Roman law on Scots law – "problems which are not without resonances in modern law," according to one critic, who added: "Prof Gordon's work shows the rich sources of legal wisdom to be found in the Roman texts by later jurists, and the influence that the civil law had on the development of Scots law, including a comparison with the position in England."

William Morrison Gordon was born in Inverurie, one of three children of William Gordon, a local bank manager, and his wife Helen, a teacher. He attended Inverurie Academy and Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen, before studying law at Aberdeen University under David Daube, Peter Stein and TB Smith. He was admitted as a solicitor in 1956 before doing his National Service in the Royal Navy (1956-57, based at Devonport, Plymouth), although his academic career meant he never actually practised as a solicitor. From 1957-60, he lectured as assistant in jurisprudence at Aberdeen University before moving to Glasgow in 1960, where he would spend the rest of his life.

He began at Glasgow University as lecturer in civil law (1960-65) and became senior lecturer in private law (1965-69) before being appointed to the Douglas Chair as Professor of Civil Law in 1969, for 30 years until 1999 in the same chair. He was Dean of Faculty from 1974-76. After retiring in 1999, he continued as Professorial Research Fellow and subsequently Honorary Fellow in the School of Law.

From 1985-98 he was literary director of the Stair Society, Scotland's legal society which seeks to advance knowledge of the history of Scots Law, and last year was elected the society's vice-president.

The society, named after the great Scots jurist James Dalrymple, 1st Viscount Stair, was dear to Prof Gordon's heart and he edited several of its volumes. A gifted linguist, he was, throughout his career, in much demand to give lectures throughout Europe, notably in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Poland.

Among his own published works were Roman Law, Scots Law and Legal History, Selected Essays (2007), Scottish Land Law (first published in 1989), Stair Society Miscellany 111 (1992) and the jointly-authored European Legal History (2000). He was still updating Scottish Land Law until shortly before he died.

Commenting on his Roman Law, Scots Law and Legal History, the Edinburgh Law Review wrote: "The essays are impeccably crafted, characterised by conciseness and lucidity in expression, demonstrate excellent sense and judgement in the handling of complex issues, and, perhaps above all, reveal a mastery of the civilian sources."

Very much a family man who doted on his 11 grandchildren, Prof Gordon was an elder (ordained in 1967) and a former finance convener and session clerk at his local Jordanhill Parish Church. "He served with quiet distinction, wisdom and great kindliness," according to a eulogy at his funeral service. "Sunday by Sunday, Bill would be in his pew alongside Isabella, and always reading his Bible in Latin."

A hockey player and three-handicap golfer in his younger days, he was a long-standing member of Hilton Park Golf Club in Milngavie and in his later years loved nothing more than playing table tennis with his grandchildren.

Prof Gordon died peacefully at his home in Jordanhill "after a long illness patiently borne", in the words of his family.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Isabella (née Robertson), their sons Malcolm and Mark, daughters Melitta and Elise, and his grandchildren. His two sisters predeceased him.