EMERITUS Professor Jim Gallacher, who has died at the age of 73, was a pioneer and scholar in the field of lifelong learning.

By the mid-1990s, and working at the new Glasgow Caledonian University, Jim was leading a Lifelong Learning group as the area emerged out of traditional Continuing Education. For him, the topic was primarily an opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives, rather than for academic advancement. Nevertheless, the small team he had recruited was of strikingly high quality, and some have gone on to enjoy distinguished academic careers.

By then he had also established a wider network of academic colleagues, most of whom responded to his gift for friendship by becoming more than simply academic contacts.

One of his most striking qualities was his willingness to speak truth to power, as when he backed the UK’s education minister into a corner at a reception at 10 Downing Street, explaining why the relationship between higher and further education in Scotland was highly effective but grossly underfunded.

On another occasion, he was on holiday when he spotted Nato’s then secretary-general, George Robertson, and left him in no doubt as to why the invasion of Iraq would be a very bad idea indeed.

Jim Gallacher was born in Dennistoun, Glasgow, the second child of James and Rosa Gallacher. His father died when Jim was 13 but he soon revealed the qualities that would become so evident later, taking on much of the responsibility for the support and well-being of his mother and sister.

His cherished memory of St Ninian’s High School, Kirkintilloch, was his introduction – by his Latin teacher, as it turns out – to the great outdoors.

The hills were a lifelong joy. It was initially a love of walking that kindled the strong bond between him and Rev. Gerry Hughes, Catholic Chaplain at Glasgow University, who profoundly influenced a whole generation of students and, later, a worldwide readership.

Jim also met his wife-to-be, Pauline, on a hill walk, and their celebration of 40 years of marriage took them along stretches of the Camino de Santiago, the large network of ancient pilgrim routes that lead to Galicia, in north-west Spain, with a small band of friends.

After a degree in History and Sociology at Glasgow he took a Masters in Sociology at the LSE. Research at Edinburgh University was followed by a lecturing post at Glasgow College of Technology.

Later, his leadership in his chosen field went from strength to strength. He initiated a remarkably successful collaboration with colleagues in the University of Stirling that led to the establishment of the joint Centre For Research In Lifelong Learning.

He provided a masterclass in how to run such a centre, particularly by garnering outside engagement that helped to exert real influence at a policy level. As the work expanded in new directions within widening educational participation, his increasing workload never distracted him from the personal mentoring relationship he nurtured with every member of the team.

His rising profile led to his appointment to the Scottish Funding Council, where he chaired the Access and Inclusion Committee. He was a member of the Scottish Executive’s Lifelong Learning Forum then became adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s Enterprise And Lifelong Learning Committee for its Inquiry Into Lifelong Learning.

On retiring from GCU in 2008, his influence at the policy level increased even further: he was appointed to honorary chairs at the universities of Stirling and the Highlands and Islands.

He was especially pleased to become a member of the board of management of the City of Glasgow College, overseeing its learning and teaching policy. Here, he could have a direct influence on what was close to his heart: the learning experience of students from diverse backgrounds.

His final appointment was as Distinguished Visiting Professor in Capital Normal University in Beijing: by then, his influence had become global, reflected in the international reach of his research. In autumn 2019 he returned to Beijing, lecturing and mentoring staff and doctoral students and, in his uniquely engaging way, communicating the values that underpin our approach to education.

Jim was very good fun to be with. He could out-dance colleagues half his age, or converse about the state of the world later into the night than anyone else. For the last 20 years he and I enjoyed a monthly evening together. With characteristic enthusiasm, he would research a new restaurant that had been getting good reviews, choose the appropriate wine, and chuckle at my jibes about champagne socialists.

The evening would pass in a whirl of views on everything from the fortunes of his beloved St Mirren to the current state of the Scottish Labour Party, for which he was a lifelong activist. For both he would apply the same optimistic stoicism with which he responded to much else: things will improve, he would assure me, as he filled my glass.

Jim always insisted he had been extraordinarily lucky in life, though others would attribute his success to an irrepressibly positive temperament and a strong moral compass. He knew when to embrace a challenge, and when to graciously submit.

In the months before his death, his favourite seat at home above Neilston looked out over the Clyde Valley to the mountains beyond. On being asked whether he regretted no longer being strong enough to walk there, came the simple reply: “But I did”.

Jim Gallacher was a man of unrivalled kindness, whose sheer humanity left everyone who got to know him feeling like a better person for having done so.

His family was the bedrock of his life; he is survived by Pauline and sons Tom and Aidan.