Obituary of Alexander Edward (Sandy) McIlwain, CBE, MA, LLB, WS, former President of the Law Society of Scotland

Sandy McIlwain died suddenly on 18 July after a three year battle with myeloma. From the diagnosis till he died, he dealt with his illness with the gritty determination, fortitude and faith with which he had lived his life.

Born in Aberdeen, he was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and thereafter at Aberdeen University where he graduated MA, LLB. His potential for leadership was first demonstrated when he became President of the Students’ Representative Council. It was the first of many positions of high office he held throughout his professional life. While at university, he helped with the student show and edited the student magazine Gaudie. He left on graduation and undertook his National Service with the Royal Corps of Signals, rising to the rank of lieutenant.

In 1961 he married Moira and moved to Hamilton, where he was to practise law for the rest of his professional career, later becoming the senior partner of Teague Leonard & Muirhead, now known as Leonards. He also served for many years as burgh prosecutor and thereafter as district prosecutor.

Over the years he was elected Dean of the Hamilton Faculty of Solicitors, and was appointed an honorary sheriff for South Strathclyde, Dumfries & Galloway.

Despite being a busy solicitor, he felt the need to put something back into his chosen profession. In 1974 he was elected the member of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland for the Burgh of Hamilton. He was quickly recognised as a person who knew about legal aid, its problems and its need for proper funding. It was not surprising that he quickly became a member of the Legal Aid Committee and its associated Fees Committee. He very quickly became the convener of both committees. He served on a complaints committee. He set and maintained high standards of professional competence for himself, which he used as a benchmark for others. Yet he was a solicitor’s solicitor, fully understanding the problems practitioners might experience. Many solicitors who turned to Sandy over the years were grateful for the advice and help he willingly gave, for which he was greatly respected.

His colleagues on the Society’s Council recognised he was a leader and a good man to have at the helm in difficult times. The Council elected him President of the Society in 1983. This was a time of change and turmoil for the profession with the recommendations of the Royal Commission being implemented by the government. A paper was published by the Scottish Office entitled Conveyancing by Banks and Building Societies. Sandy accepted he was no conveyancer. He often said he had never done a piece of conveyancing for money. Yet he quickly grasped and understood the problems which faced the profession if the proposals were to be implemented. Almost singlehandedly he wrote the Society’s response, which persuaded the Scottish Office not to proceed at that time.

Despite the professional problems during his presidency, he and his wife Moira were the most charming hosts at the many social functions which go with the office.

When he retired from active practice with his firm, he became chairman of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, a member of the Central Advisory Committee for Scotland on Justices of the Peace, and chairman of the Lanarkshire Scout Council. He was appointed a temporary sheriff and quickly became the President of their Association. He also became a member of the Cameron Committee on shrieval training. He was a doyen of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, becoming a chairman and dealing with the most difficult and complicated cases. Indeed it was while sitting on a panel that he first became ill. He was also a dedicated elder of Glasgow Cathedral.

Despite what might be thought to be an overwhelming workload,

he was the most cheerful and happy family man, enjoying nothing better than being with his devoted wife Moira and his three daughters and five grandchildren. They held parties in their home which were enjoyed by their wide circle of friends and were legendary for hilarity, fun, laughter and song.

Throughout his last three years he underwent extensive treatment in ward 24 of the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, where he received wonderful care. When at home he was most willingly and lovingly nursed by Moira. As you would expect, he faced his illness with his usual cheerful determination and fortitude.

As a solicitor, a man of principle, as a leader in many fields, as a husband, father and friend, he will be sorely missed.

He is survived by his wife Moira, daughters Karen, Shona and Wendy, and his five grandchildren of whom he was very proud. His mother, who is 104 years old, also survives him.

Kenneth Pritchard

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