This is my final column for The Herald.

I am 67 today and although I've made some bad judgments over the years, I think I'm making a good one now.

I'd like to reflect on a man who is totally forgotten.

This exceptional figure was the radical educationist Robert Mackenzie (always known as R F Mackenzie) who died in 1987.

It was 13 years earlier, in April 1974, that he was suspended - in effect sacked - by Aberdeen Education Committee. It was a public meeting and at it Mackenzie made by far the most noble and dramatic speech I ever heard. It was worthy of Martin Luther King.

Mackenzie lost his job as headteacher of Summerhill Academy, Aberdeen for a variety of reasons, but basically because he allegedly refused to control the pupils at the school and because his staff were totally divided.

In his peroration Mackenzie said: "It is not me who is on trial today, it is comprehensive education that is on trial …you have given us children with wounds in their souls. We could have cured them, we should have cured them, but we couldn't because you gave us a divided staff."

Despite his eloquence, which was almost unbearably moving, the committee's decision went against him. He lost his job by 16 votes to six.

Mackenzie was brought up deep in Aberdeenshire, the son of a country stationmaster. He never lost his soft Aberdeenshire accent. He was brilliant academically. As he later noted, he benefited from a system he came to despise.

His parents made sacrifices to send him to a private school in Aberdeen, Robert Gordon's College, of which he was dux. After graduating from Aberdeen University, he travelled widely on the continent, teaching here and there. He was staying with a Jewish family in Germany in 1938 when their house was attacked and set on fire.

During the war, Mackenzie served as a navigator in Bomber Command. He witnessed the horrors that led to war and the horrors of war itself.

He had various teaching jobs till in 1968 he was appointed head of Summerhill Academy, a large comprehensive school on the western fringes of Aberdeen.

If it is true that the school slowly descended into near-anarchy, it is also true that Mackenzie didn't get what he had asked for, a staff who backed him. In 1974, I was an education correspondent. I covered the meeting when he was suspended, and had a long conversation with him and his wife Diana later that evening in their little farmhouse by the River Dee.

I befriended him and wrote copiously about his ideas. He asked me to write the introduction to his book about the Summerhill saga, called The Unbowed Head (this was the heading on the first piece I wrote about him after his sacking).

He remained filled with a kind of divine despair. He never could completely shake off the Christianity of his youth, though he was no longer a Christian.

For him, the key to everything could be found in the souls of the young. He thought that the care, support and nourishment of children were far more important than any notion of formal education. He despised divisiveness and what he saw as the tyranny of exams. He believed that many children endured extreme turmoil in their lives. He thought that good teachers simply had to listen to young people if they were to teach them effectively.

For a brief period Mackenzie became a hero for Scotland's radical Left, but few gave him sustained support. The distinguished historian T C Smout noted that he had the status of "a prophet almost without honour".

I've been privileged to meet many Scots in many walks of life. Some of them have been outstanding, including a few of the politicians. But none of them had the intensity of Mackenzie's prophetic vision. He made me realise that education, in the broadest sense, is potentially the most enabling and healing service of all, and that teaching is the most important and influential of all the professions.

Iain Macwhirter will be the columnist in this slot from next week.