Professor of conveyancing at Glasgow University. An appreciation

JAMES Alistair Macfarlane Inglis (known as Alistair), who has died aged 90, was professor of conveyancing at Glasgow University from 1978 to 1993.

He had a hard act to follow: his predecessor was the late Professor J M Halliday, one of the towering legal figures of the 20th century and a major influence on the introduction to Scotland of a map-based system of registration of title.

Oddly enough, Professor Inglis was the first to benefit personally from the new system. Renfrewshire was the first county to go live on the new register and his home in Uplawmoor thus gained the very first title number – REN1.

Throughout his own tenure as professor, Alistair served diligently and authoritatively on the joint committee charged with operating and troubleshooting the fledgling system.

Wisely, he made no attempt to create himself the new Halliday. His public personality was quieter, more reserved. Instead he set about the practicalities of running his department with characteristic firmness.

His appointment coincided with the introduction of the diploma in legal practice for law graduates seeking to become practising lawyers. He asked me to join his team of tutors to teach and demonstrate the conveyancing module for the diploma. I was pleased and honoured to serve in this way. That opportunity Alistair gave me has had a significant effect in shaping my own career in the law.

Alistair left us as tutors to devise the course and its content. He intervened rarely. When he did the discussion was free and frank but somehow the decision always came out to do things his preferred way. We learned that quiet assertiveness was his stock in trade. "Stubborn" was a word we would find ourselves using about him.

The chair of conveyancing was a part-time one. Alistair's principal professional commitment was as a senior partner in the well-known Glasgow firm McClure Naismith Brodie & Co. He had a full portfolio of client business and was held in high esteem by clients and colleagues alike.

As professor, he was consulted frequently in his city centre office about property law problems and disputes. I recall visiting him once to discuss a tricky boundary issue. We pored over plans and documents and he finally pronounced: "I think the answer is to ...” he paused. Silence descended. I turned and looked at him. He was sound asleep! I coughed pointedly. He opened his eyes, showed no surprise, and completed his sentence without further hesitation. And his advice was both correct and practical. I paid his fee without deduction for slumber.

That Alistair should get tired in the course of his working day was no surprise. His commitments and output were prodigious. A heavy programme of lecturing and administration at Glasgow University. A full client list at his firm. A demanding commitment to legal textbooks and reference sources.

Yet on top of this he found time to take on additional appointments and voluntary roles, including as chair of the Rent Assessment Panel; serving on various hospital and health boards; acting as a general trustee of the Church of Scotland, a patron of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow; a director of the Merchants House of Glasgow and many more. He was a former dean of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow, a position I currently hold with pride myself, though scarcely with the authority and standing which Alistair brought to it.

In 1984, to his pride and delight Alistair was awarded a CBE for services to the legal profession.

It is in relation to his professional and academic career that I knew Alistair Inglis best. He raised a family of five and I am proud to relate that two of them became lawyers and joined my firm as partners. Each of them displays a fair mix of paternal traits and foibles!

Despite the demands of his stellar legal career, Alistair was first and foremost a family man. He was born in Kilmarnock in 1928, son of a lawyer and a doctor. He attended Kilmarnock Academy and Fettes College and in due course St Andrews University where he gained an MA, followed a year or two later by a law degree at Glasgow.

In 1958 he married Elizabeth, the love of his life. They set up home in Uplawmoor and became kenspeckle and greatly loved residents of that village for the rest of their lives. The funeral thanksgiving service for Alistair’s life packed out the local Caldwell Parish Church. The Rev John Campbell, a former Minister in the parish, and eldest child Alexander together delivered the family-authored eulogy with great sensitivity and not a little twinkling humour.

Alistair and Elizabeth had five children – Alexander, Elspeth, Morag, Marion and Ronald. They were, and indeed remain, a close knit and strong family unit. Alistair’s presiding at the evening dinner table was legendary, conducting general knowledge interrogations to which the family responded enthusiastically and competitively. Laughter was an ever-present.

A conscientious Christian with a firm faith, Alistair was session clerk of the local church for more than 50 years. This did not however preclude his membership of the Uplawmoor “bad boys” club which met weekly for a dram. The family had a succession of dachshund pets all of whom Alistair adored. The most recent pup, Fergus, joined him just a year before he died.

The loss of Elizabeth to terminal illness in 2004 was a terrible blow for Alistair and the family. But he refused to bow to self-pity and applied himself diligently to learning new skills and pursuits. Even in his last months he maintained an exemplary outlook, making plans for various things he intended to do in 2020, a year which, alas, he was not to see.